The Matcha Journey; Part 7: Cooling
Why are tea leaves cooled
Coming off from the steaming process, the wet leaves have a high chance of losing their color and flavor. To prevent that, they’re immediately sent to cool. The exact sequence of drying times and temperatures is a vital part of the art of tea making that many there’s a lot of debate on what the best variation of steps is, but they concede on the basic principles.
What’s common among tea makers is the 5 heat cycles in cooling chambers.
A quick trip through the conveyor, and the leaves are sent flying up in the air. Moist, damp and flaccid, the leaves are sent through various stages of a large aeration machines called the ‘Andon’ with up to 4 or 5 chambers. All similar in shape and size, they all serve the same function. These chambers are fitted with large, powerful fans with that catapult the leaves to 5 meters high in the air. The leaves don’t scatter all over the tea processing facility’s floor thanks to net cages built around and up the chamber in tall columns. Another option to the mesh material are large wire mesh cages, which are also popular.
Removing moisture is an important process that not only enhances the flavor of tea, but extends its shelf life. Moisture hastens rotting, and for high quality tea that is exported all over the world, a short shelf life is not desirable. Leaves that got stuck together during steaming, or those that stuck together due to the moisture dripping from the leaves’ surfaces are detached by the air. The strong and constant stream of air causes the remaining moisture to evaporate and cools down the leaf.
Upon arriving at the last column, the leaves have separated, cooled down, and dried. When they've reached this state the leaves in the columns should be floating on their own and detached from each other. And they should be because the final column leads to the drying bed which is basically a brick oven.
Cooling also separated the high-quality leaves from the lesser ones, and there’s no special process needed but the gusts of air already present. While the ‘meatier’ leaves float to dry in the upper levels, heavier stems and tiny leaves fall.
This maybe residue, but they are not waste. Throughout the processing of the leaves, these are collected to become another kind of tea called ‘Konacha’. It’s not limited to sorted specks and tiny tea leaves, but also tea buds and dust left behind during processing.
Brewed konacha is a favorite of tea connoisseurs but high quality konacha is sometimes hard to find as konacha accounts only for 10% of all tea leaves.
We are almost there. Just a few steps more, and we’ll finally get to the singular process that makes matcha, matcha. But first, the leaves have to be dried. Be the first to know when the next installment is up by signing up for the Matcha Organics Club