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How is Tea Processed?

Wow, what a great question!


As you know, there are six different types of tea which all hail from the same plant (called Camellia Sinensis). The main difference between these teas is the way in which they are processed - which, luckily for you, we will get into now!



Harvesting


The life of a tea leaf begins in the field, where it is harvested during the optimum season (also known as a 'flush') for its variety.


During harvesting, leaves are only plucked from the top one to two inches of the tea plant. Tips – also known as silver tips or buds – are the small, unopened leaves of the tea plant, which are considered to be of better quality than the larger, older leaves of the plant. When a tea has many tips, it is called 'tippy'.


Sometimes, tea companies use large machines to gather the tea leaves - but this can tear the leaves and result in lower quality, along with pick up undesirables that then have to be removed through sorting. Luckily for you, all of our tea is picked by hand by talented farmers that care for the plant and ensure that only the best leaves are chosen.


Orthodox Method: How Good Tea is Made ;)


There are two main types of processing methods. First, we have the orthodox method, where the leaves are withered, rolled, oxidised, and dried in a way that maintains the flavours and quality of the pickings. Of course, this is the method that all of our teas are processed with.



Withering


After harvesting, the leaves will be transported from the fields and to the tea factory within mere hours after plucking. The idea of withering is to lower the moisture content, so that the leaves can be rolled without flaking or breaking apart. The moisture content will usually be brought down from 75% to 45% (depending on the type of tea), and they will be withered by laying the leaves onto a mesh surface or a bamboo tray, and left to wilt naturally in the sun for however long it takes. They will be dried in the cool air for anywhere between eight to 18 hours, before moving onto the next stage: rolling.


Rolling


Whilst many tea companies have forgotten the traditional method of rolling, we sure haven't! Instead of opting for rolling machines to take over these jobs, our teas are rolled by hand - softly breaking down the internal cell structures, which releases essential oils to react with the oxygen in the air, resulting in a deeper flavour and aroma.



Oxidation


Oxidation is the process which determines the overall strength and flavour of the tea. This is done by the reaction between the enzymes and the oxygen breaking down the chlorophyll and releasing tannins, which turns the leaves a darker shade. Temperatures are typically kept between 26 and 30 C (80 to 85 F), and the amount of time that the leaves are left to oxidise results in the different teas.


Green and white teas are non-oxidised, and oolongs are oxidised for only a short amount of time to turn a light brown or yellow colour. Then, you have fully oxidised teas such as black tea, which become a reddish brown in colour and produce very bold and well-rounded flavours.


Drying


To stop the oxidation process, the leaves are then pan-fired, sun dried, or baked, depending on tradition and variety. The leaves will be blasted with temperatures over 37 C (100 F), and the moisture content will be brought down to just two or three percent.



CTC Method: How Bad Tea is Made :(


CTC stands for cut-tear-curl, or crush-tear-curl - and is a processing method that we AVOID. This production method is used for the bulk commodity market, where the process results in shredded tea leaves and granular pellets. They undergo the same withering, oxidation, and drying methods that orthodox teas go through, but during the rolling stage, the leaves are thrown around in machines that contain hundreds of tiny, sharp teeth. These teeth break down the leaves, which can then be used for tea in tea bags.

On the mass market, brands use low-grade leaves, dust, and fannings, as the overall contact area between the leaf and the water is much larger, resulting in a stronger but also duller brew with a lack of complexity. The increased surface area allows for the leaves’ essential oils to evaporate, also affecting its freshness. Overall, this results in a strong, one-dimensional dull flavoured cup.


Along with this, teas from different farms get blended by the same factory and then sent to other countries to be mixed with their tea, bringing the overall cost down. But different chemicals from different farms get blended together and can create a pretty unhealthy brew, especially when the origins of each plant gets lost along the way. Along with this, artificially cultivated tea-growing areas are becoming more and more popular, which overworks the land and produces sad plants which really are no good for consumption.


We certainly know which method we prefer!