Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Tea Week 2: Tea Production

Having spoken of the Legends about the Discovery of Tea, I will finally come back to what my original topic was for the first post of the Tea Week: Tea Production. How is it that the fresh tea leaf is transformed into the fragrant ones stored in our homes? What gives green tea a unique flavour from black tea or white tea? All of these answers lie in the way these teas are processed. The process of tea production has the following steps:

1. Plucking 

Tea Plucking
Tea plucking happens twice a year during early spring and late spring or early summer. There can be autumn plucking as seen in Darjeeling teas from some estates as the climate permits it. During quality periods like First Flush or Second Flush, a terminal bud and two leaves of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) are plucked whereas during other periods even three to four leaves can be plucked. Plucking can be done by machines but is preferably done by hand when good quality tea is being processed.

2. Withering

Withering the Tea Leaves
The tea leaves begin to wilt as soon as they're plucked. Don't worry it is a desirable thing! It is the beginning to the oxidation process that is going to give tea its flavour. Withering can be done in many ways. Tea leaves can be put under the sun to dry and wither. Another popularly used method is use 'withering troughs' which are about 6 inches deep. Fans are installed to pass air over the green leaf while it withers. This process can take 18-24 hours. This process removes the moisture content of the leaf so that it can withstand the pressure of rolling.

3. Rolling

Rolling the Tea Leaves
Rolling is the process by which the withered tea leaves are shaped into strips either by hand or by a machine with light pressure. This breaks the cells of the tea leaf causing sap and juices to ooze out and add flavour to the tea. The type of rolling depends on the type of tea, for example in oolong tea, the rolled strips of tea are rolled further into spheres or half spheres.

4. Fermentation/ Oxidation

Fermentation of Tea Leaves
Fermentation is the process that allows the leaves to darken to a desired colour. The rolled tea leaves are stored in climate controlled conditions that are carefully controlled. This process causes the enzymes to break down and releases the tannins giving tea its characteristic flavour. This fermentation process can take up to 3 to 4 hours depending on the type of the tea again.

5.  Drying 

Drying to Produce the Final Tea
Drying produces the final tea that is ready for consumption and sale. This process can also be known as firing based on the particular technique used. Generally, the tea leaves are dried using baking. In green tea, drying is the most important step of adding flavour to the tea leaves.

There are many additional steps in the production of tea that are unique to the type of tea produced. These steps give the tea their characteristic colour or flavour. While producing yellow tea sweltering is used to turn the leaves yellow from green whereas some teas are aged further after drying to give them more flavours. Stay tuned for more details on these on my blog post tomorrow which will be about the 'Types of Teas'!






Tea plucking: http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/India/Northeast/Sikkim/Ravangla/photo1088946.htm

Tea Withering: http://www.bigelowteablog.com/tag/tea-plantation/

Tea Rolling http://www.natureproducts.net/Puer_Tea/Banzang.html

Tea Fermentation http://www.travelblog.org/Photos/5497827

Tea Drying http://www.flickr.com/photos/myragoodrich/294337502/