How Teas are Made

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

Here is a little trivia for you: all types of tea – black, green, white, and oolong – are made from the same plant. These tea types achieve different color and taste during the processing. Different varieties of plucking and processing methods resulted in different tea categories, individually loved all over the world. In today’s post, we are walking you through the many processes that tea goes through before it makes it way to your cup:

Step 1: Plucking

The complex method of tea making starts at collecting the raw material, in this case, tea plant Camellia sinensis. For green tea, young leaves are plucked and more mature leaves are used for black or oolong tea. The young leaves yield a floral, delicate flavor while matured leaves have robust, stronger flavors, and darker color.

The plucking method will differ from region to region. In South India, two to three leaves and a bud is recommended for making black tea. The composition of the leaves and shoots will affect the taste of the tea as well as the level of fermentation.

Step 2: Withering

After collecting the raw materials, the leaves and buds are withered either physically or chemically for better rolling. When the raw materials are withered, complex biochemical reaction changes the physical and cellular composition of the leaves and bud.

For instance, the polyphenol oxidase activity increases and this enhances the rate of fermentation. Withering also improves the aroma of the final product and optimizes the caffeine content of the leaves. There are different ways to whither the tea leaves and bud. One is to expose the plant to ambient air that’s above 3ºC or exposure to hot air that’s below 35ºC.

Step 3: Rolling

After the withering process, tea makers will start rolling the leaves and crush them to smaller sizes. The rolling action presses out the juice from the plant, coating the surface of the tea leaves to promote chemical changes.

During this point, strict quality measures are applied to ensure the highest quality tea. The moisture content of the rolled leaves is measured and the temperature is also monitored.

Step 4: Fermentation

The fermentation process is meant to trigger further chemical changes to enhance the taste of the tea. At this point, oxidation takes place, changing green tea leaves into copper. Fermentation also causes the leaves to ferment for deeper, more complex flavor. During the initial stage of fermentation, the tea leaves are exposed to humid air.

Step 5: Drying

The drying process is meant to reduce the moisture content in the fermented tea by 2-3%. The key to optimum drying is to achieve uniform firing and avoid uneven drying.

Step 6: Sorting

After drying the tea leaves, they are sorted by hand according to shapes and sizes as per trade requirements. Sorting enhances the quality of the end product and prevents harshness.

Step 7: Storage and Packing

After the tea leaves are sorted and graded, they are packed accordingly. Different types of tea require different packaging. For example, black tea must be packed in a highly hygroscopic material. The tea should be stored in cool, dry place to preserve its quality.

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