Tea is the type of product that is not only universally loved but also the backbone of a number of different economies across the globe. While a lot of people love tea, very few can claim to know the basics of how tea is made. Here, we attempt to guide you through the various processes that tea undergoes before reaching the shelves of various stores.
The first stage of production and this is where the actual manufacture of tea starts
What a lot of people do not know is that the tea actually starts getting made from the moment the leaf is plucked off the bush. Generally, the finer and more tender leaves are plucked and the plucking cycles are maintained in such a way that the leaf does not become oversized as this brings down the quality of the tea. If the plucking is done in the correct method, the regeneration of the new shoots also happens in the manner that it is supposed to. Despite the presence of machines, it is widely believed that the best plucking is still done by hand. Once the plucking is done, it is taken to the factory for the next step of manufacture.
This part technically starts once the leaf has been taken off from the bush during plucking
After the leaves are taken to the factory, they are put into withering troughs so that a certain amount of water/moisture can be drained from the leaves to reach the desired level that makes it suitable for manufacture. This step is known as controlled withering since the air flow, temperature and humidity are closely monitored and controlled. The body of the leaf also becomes much more suited to go through the rigours of the remaining stages. During this stage, the leaf also starts to lose chlorophyll while the caffeine content increases. The grassy flavours of the leaf tend to disappear while the leaf starts to generate properties of flavours and aromas.
3. Crush,tear,curl/Rolling (whole leaves)
This stage is done a bit differently as it is based on the different production styles
Whole leaf teas will generally go through the process of rolling where the leaves gets compressed by a machine but is never subject to any sort of extreme conditioning. This helps to not only develop the flavours but also ensures that there is a higher percentage of it as well. CTC on the other hand is a completely different ball game. During this part, the leave go through an aptly named Crush, Tear, Curl machine and end up in mucky state with a lot of juice sucked out of the leaves. While as much flavour may not be retained when compared to whole leaf teas, the entire process of CTC manufacturing is faster from start to finish.
Teas transform into their various colours and hues in this part of manufacturing
There are a lot of people who refer to this part as fermentation but technically it is not correct. After going through the previous stage, the teas are laid out to ‘rest’ (not more than 2-3 inches in thickness) and that is when the oxidation process starts with the leaf going from green to a brown (ish) tinge. This does not apply for all teas though since teas like white tea and green tea are not oxidised while oolong is partially oxidised. Black tea, on the other hand, is totally oxidised. The oxidation levels and times depend on the type and style of tea which is desired. This process usually occurs in enclosed spaces as the temperature and the relative humidity of the space need to be set at specific levels.
Heating things up to ensure that the tea does not lose its shape or crumble into pieces
After reaching the desired levels of oxidation, the tea is put through a firing machine and conditioned with a certain amount of heat to give stability to the body of the tea. The specific shapes of the enzyme proteins get destroyed during this process. Firing generally lasts a maximum of an hour and a minimum of about ten minutes.
After going through the desired levels of firing, the tea is ready to be sorted and shipped off
During this stage, the tea is ready for consumption. Since the various shapes and sizes of the teas are mixed up, it is put through machines or steel meshes which segregate the teas according to their various grades and styles. This makes it easier to pack the teas into the various chests and sacks since tea is generally sent off as per its grades from the point of manufacture.
As can be seen, these are the general methods of manufacturing that are associated with tea. Most of the teas around the world with undergo these methods. The major exceptions to this rule would be the specialty teas and a handful of other teas.