Tea is one of those products which is universally loved and consumed all over. Despite this, only a fraction of tea drinkers actually know how this wondrous drink is manufactured. A bit of tweaking along with some common properties is what allows for these variations in tea types. Of course, factors like terrain and altitude also play an equally important hand.
Green Tea (non fermented)
- After plucking, the leaves are withered for the necessary duration. The thing to note is that the withering time will depend on the type of tea which is being produced even if it falls under the same category of tea.
- Post withering, the tea is treated to pan fire (in China) and hot steam (in Japan) in order to prevent any natural oxidisation. As a result of this, the leaves in Japan are generally bright green in colour while the leaves in China take on a duller shade of green.
- Rolling is the next step and it is usually done either by hand (which is useful in the case of making artistic shapes) or with the help of rolling machines.
- After the rolling is complete, the teas are set out to dry before they can be sorted and packed. Drying has two regular options- either being set up to dry naturally in the sun or they are run through the drying machines.
Oolong Tea (partly fermented)
- One of the well known secrets behind Oolong tea production is that it is allowed to be partially bruised by being shaken and maybe a bit stirred as well, in a basket. These bruised areas are allowed to oxidise while the central parts generally remains as is.
- On reaching the oxidation levels that are required, the leaves are pan fired at very high temperatures to prevent the process before the leaves are meant to be rolled.
- Due to exposure at such high temperatures, oolong teas contain less moisture and tend to have a longer shelf life than even green teas.
White Tea (least processed)
- White teas chiefly originate from the mountainous Fujian province in China. These are mostly made from the bud and two leaves which sometimes contain small white hairs and are plucked during early spring.
- A thing of note would be the fact that this variety of tea is not subject to rolling of any kind and one of the major factors as to why white tea is the least processed of all the teas.
- The leaves of white tea are left to not only wither on their own but also exposed to minimal temperatures for drying.
Black Tea (most fermented)
Black tea has two major methods of manufacturing. Both CTC and orthodox are extremely popular and are produced in big quantities around the world.
Orthodox production method
- Fresh plucked leaves are evenly spread across ventilated trays to dry off. In order to make the leaves more soft and malleable for production, a certain percentage of moisture is extracted during this process.
- After this, the leaves are sent through the rolling machines to take out the cell sap and break the cells up. The finer leaf from the lot gets separated by sieving after a while and is ready for fermentation. The remaining coarse leaves are again rolled for the same duration but with a higher amount of pressure and this process may be repeated more than once if the need arises. A shorter rolling process will generally produce larger leaf grades and the opposite applies for longer roll times. During this time, the cell sap dries out and triggers fermentation because of its reaction with oxygen.
- The fermentation area or room is generally much cooler than the other parts of the tea manufacturing unit. Post rolling, the tea is spread out in layers of not more than a few inches and left to ferment. Different teas will have a number of fermentation periods. Due to a number of chemical reactions, the tea tends to heat up during this period and stopping it at the correct time is the key for successful implementation of this phase of tea manufacture. The transition of the tea leaves from green to a coppery brown also occurs as the fermentation process takes place.
- The final stage of tea manufacture before the tea is graded and packed is drying with hot air. This is done to arrest the oxidation process. As a result of this exposure to air at high temperatures, the leaf colour turns from coppery brown to black as the extracted sap dries on the leaf itself during drying and the moisture levels gets minimized to acceptable limits.
CTC production method
- Arguably, this is the type of tea that a majority of the world have been exposed to or drink on a regular basis. The leaves are set out in the withering trays to eliminate a certain amount of moisture and get the leaf ready for the next stage.
- This part of manufacturing is what sets apart the orthodox and CTC production methods. Once the withering is done, the leaves are put through the Crush, Tear and Curl machine and hence the name CTC. This machine does to the leaves exactly what its name suggests before it moves on to the next stages of production which are fermenting, drying, grading and packing. Some of the other things which would differ would be the durations and temperatures while the CTC teas are undergoing fermentation and drying.
In a nutshell, these are the ways in which some of the most popular teas in the world are manufactured. Some of these elements may even be noticed the next time one is sipping on their favourite brew if they go through this article.