Did you know that all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, and the categories of tea are distinguished by the type of processing that they undergo?
Do you remember those childhood days when your mind was able to ask simple questions, like how one went from Point A to Point B, or how things worked? Sadly, as we age and our minds become busier with responsibilities, we often forget to ask the simple questions of childhood that are so fundamental to our understanding and our enjoyment of the world around us.
We decided to get our childhood glasses on and ask just how the heck those tea plants growing the ground become the dry, curled, steepable leaves we sell in our store. Here’s what we found out:
There are three different ways of processing most teas – orthodox, CTC, and LTC. For our purposes, we focus on the orthodox, which consists of five or six stages of processing: Withering, Steaming, Rolling, Fermentation, Drying, and Sorting. Production of black tea involves all five processes, while other types of tea processing have variations of the five. For example, green tea omits the fermentation, oolong semi-ferments, and white tea processing elongates the steaming step in open-air.
This process varies widely according to the type of tea; some are withered much longer than others. Freshly picked leaves are spread out on ventilated trays in order to extract up to 30% of the moisture. This makes the leaves soft and pliable for rolling.
Much as it sounds, leaves are steamed or dry heated in order to break down their natural enzymes. This retains their colour in further processing; as such, this step is emphasized more in green and white tea processing as opposed to black tea processing.
Rolling is performed manually or by machine depending on the type of tea. This breaks up the cells and allows for extraction of any sap, triggering the fermentation process. At the same time, essential oils that produce the tea aroma are also released. In many cases the leaf is rolled into an artistic shape following a tradition which dates back thousands of years. A short rolling time produces larger leaf grades, while longer breaks up the leaves more resulting in lower grade tea.
Leaves are again spread out for fermentation. They are left over time for this process to occur. Oolong teas ferment the outer leaf, leaving the inside non-fermented, whereas black tea processing often ferments the entire leaf.
Drying and Sorting:
After fermentation is complete (or skipped), the leaves are stacked in hot-air rack driers or exposed to the natural heat of the sun. Once dried, they are sorted by size into different grades -- leaf, fannings, or dust.
So there you have it – inner child satisfied. That is how the tea leaf becomes drinkable for your cup! Next time you enjoy that sip of Herbal Republic tea, know that it’s gone through a lot to get to your cup and taste as good as it does. Enjoy!
Our Teaz Tea Boutique has teas on sale, please drop by and check out the deals.