There is a trend toward people trying to bake their own tea. I like that “do it yourself” spirit, but there are 3 reasons why you should let the vendor bake your tea. There may even be more.

Baking machine for tea used by Thomas Shu, expert on Taiwanese oolongs (Screen capture from site)

Baking machine for tea used by Thomas Shu, expert on Taiwanese oolongs (Screen capture from site)

No, we’re not talking about the kind of baking that produces such deliciousness as cakes, pies, breads, and scones. This is a rather different process, but philosophically, there are similarities. Which brings me to reason #1.

1 The Process Takes a Practiced Skill

Just as when making any of the luscious treats named above so that they turn out truly luscious or like when making a soufflé that would bring tears of joy to the eyes of a chef at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, success with baking tea leaves takes practice which in turn builds up skill. Just cracking an egg can be tricky. Mixing the batter just right is, too. So is baking tea leaves. The right temperature and duration is determined often through experimentation. You also need to monitor the process, baking for awhile, then smelling the leaves, then maybe baking some more, adjusting the temperature up or down as you might think is due. Of course, what you use to bake the tea leaves matters, too, which brings us to reason #2.

2 The Process Takes Special Equipment

Unless you’re planning to bake a lot of tea or just like to spend your money on something that will sit around collecting dust most of the time, you may not want to buy your own tea baking oven. See the one shown above used by tea pro Thomas Shu who bakes quite a bit of tea and is a real pro in this area. Sure, you can use the regular oven in your kitchen, but this is better in that the leaves can be closer to the heat source. A toaster oven is another option, though. It’s smaller and easier to control the amount of heat getting to the tea leaves than that big turkey-sized oven is. But even so, you could end up with burnt tea nuggets instead of a lovely nutty oolong or wonderfully toasty black tea, no matter how skillful you are. Which is a waste and brings up reason #3.

3 Wasting Good Tea Is Criminal

Well, not technically criminal. There’s no real law or statute or government regulation against it. But considering the time and effort that goes into growing, tending, harvesting, and processing the tea that you are trying to bake, I would certainly not be happy about it.

There are certainly legitimate reasons to try to bake your own tea: experimentation, the tea leaves have absorbed moisture from the air around them due to improper storage, the tea wasn’t baked enough for your taste. Whatever the case, should you get the urge to bake your own tea, do so with care. Enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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