HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN TEA AT HOME
For personal use you will need about 4 bushes for the average family of tea drinkers. The bushes need to be planted in a well-drained area. Most soil types will do though they prefer slightly acidic soil. They will tolerate full sun of partial shade, not full shade. Tea likes plenty of water, but will not tolerate standing in water. Fertilize with a hight nitrogen fertiliser, in October and February.
Prune your bushes so that they spread out to form a flattop hedge. Prune in February for the first 3 years then every year in July if in a no frost area, or when the danger of frost has passed if you are in a frost prone area. Prune to about 200mm the first year, 300mm in the second year, 400mm in the third year, when you should be able to get your first crop. Pluck the first two or three leaves and the bud every time they are 5-8cm above the pruning mark at first then use the plucking mark as a guide. You should let your bushes gain height during the plucking season so that they reach a comfortable working height by the end of the season, around early July in the Northern New South Wales and South East Queensland area.
When your bushes reach maturity, in 5-6 years prune out the ‘crows feet’ every year. Then every 5 years give them a deep prune down to 30-40 cm from the ground. Make clean cuts with your pruning.
PLUCKINGYou should be able to pluck your 2-3 leaves and bud by about October and then every 2-3 weeks decreasing to about every week in December – January – February – March – April, then extending to 2-3 weeks by June – July. When plucking pull off and discard any old dark green leaf that protrude above your plucking table. You only need the fresh light green new growth to make tea.
PROCESSINGHaving plucked your 2-3 leaves and bud, you are now ready to make tea. When your bushes are mature you should get about 1 kilo or more from your four bushes. Thinly spread your leaf out on a withering table which you can make by stretching a piece of Hessian or such over a frame about 1m square or anything similar just so that air can circulate all around the individual leaves. You will need to leave this to wither for about 17 hours in the shade or indoors.
Your tea is withered when you squeeze a hand full and it stays in a ball. Though, this physical wither is not as important as the chemical wither, which must have about 17 hours to take place. Next, feed your tea through a meat mincer, a food processor is not satisfactory for this. Use a fine screen in the end of your mincer, and feed the tea through twice. The tea leaves need to be broken up under pressure in order to rupture the leaf cells. That is why a mincer is best. Alternatively you could chop it with a knife on a chopping board. Then roll it with a heavy wooden roller.
From here spread your tea on a tray up to 25mm thick and leave for about an hour, when it should be turned and left for another hour. This process is called fermentation. After fermentation you are ready for drying. This is the hardest part for the home tea maker to do.
I use an old fan heater mounted so that the hot air comes out upwards. You must be sure not to cover the air intake when you make a mounting frame, over the outlet on the fan heater and about 5 cm away, on the same frame I have a piece of fine .75mm stainless steel mesh which I bought from an engineering supply store. Place your tea on the mesh when it is hot, turning the tea occasionally until it is very dry 3% moisture. Feel some bought tea to get an idea of what to aim for. It should take about 20 minutes to dry 200 grams of tea, which is what you will end up with from 1 kg of green leaf. If you dry it too quickly you will form a crust on the leaf known as case hardening, which will not allow a proper infusion to take place and thus have a very weak brew. If you are too slow with your drying you will stew your tea and it will taste just like that, stewed.
Whatever system you use for drying, you must remove the moisture from the tea with air or you will cook it not dry it.
Store your tea after cooling in airtight containers, if glass store away from light.