Two Leaves and a Bud Blog

The Art of Making Tea

You drink it every day, but how does all that wonderful tea go from the gardens into a tea sachet?  With its incredible variety of tastes, textures and aromas that come from all over the world, you might think that there are a wide variety of tea plants that produce different sorts of tea.

The reality, however, is actually quite the contrary—similar to wine, tea comes from one plant, camellia sinensis.   The region, terrain and climate where camellia sinensis grows, along with different processing methods, is actually what lends tea its incredible variety.  With that in mind let’s explore how tea actually makes it from the garden into your cup.

To start, let’s walk through how a black tea is processed and made.  From there, we’ll point out minor differences that take place in the processing of green and white teas:

Step 1: The Plucking

In gardens across the world, pluckers are the beginnings of a great cuppa' tea. Moving around the garden to harvest different areas every six to 14 days, depending on the season, the plucker's skilled hands are the key to getting "good leaf."

That “good leaf” is then carried to the “tea factory” close to the garden, to begin the next process in preparation.

Step 2: Withering

Tea leaves are next laid out on a large bed of forced, blown air.  The air leads to the leaves withering – removing moisture from the leaf so that it reaches a dry, almost leathery texture.

Step 3: Rolling

Tea then goes through the rolling process. It is spread out on rolling tables, or rolling machines, that curl the leaf, tighten it and push out many of its oils. The previous withering step of the process is integral to rolling, because withering allows the leaf to reach a consistency that will keep it from breaking while being rolled.

The leaf is beginning to resemble the tea you are used to seeing in your average tea sachet—but there is still some processing that needs to occur before it’s ready for tasting.

Step 4: Fermentation

Fermentation is one of the most essential steps in tea processing.  Tea is laid out in a large, warm, humid room, and left to “ferment” (which is actually technically oxidation, not fermentation!).  As the tea begins reacting with the warm air, its flavor (and caffeine content) begins to develop.  At this point, experts at the tea factory have to use their senses, actually bringing large handfuls of the tea up to their noses and drawing in a deep breath.  When they decide that the tea’s flavor has reached its peak, they quickly stop the fermenting process before the tea has time to begin declining in flavor.

Tea's flavors, aroma and caffeine contents develops during fermentation.

How does the tea factory stop oxidation from occurring?  By firing the tea.  Tea is quickly heated, which dries the tea and halts its chemical reaction with the warm air.  It also now takes on the form most tea drinkers are used to seeing in a two leaves and a bud tea sachet – a crisp, crackly leaf loaded with flavor.

Step 5: Firing

How does the tea factory stop oxidation from occurring?  By firing the tea.  Tea is quickly heated, which dries the tea and halts its chemical reaction with the warm air.  It also now takes on the form most tea drinkers are used to seeing in a two leaves and a bud tea sachet – a crisp, crackly leaf loaded with flavor.

Different Types of Tea Require Different Processing

So, what’s the difference in processing of green and white teas?  The above black tea processing method largely remains in effect, with a few tweaks here or there.

Green Tea

Green tea is actually never withered.  It goes through a steaming, or roasting process that brings the tea to an appropriate rolling texture.  Green tea also goes through a much lighter fermentation process, keeping its flavors at a “smoother” level, while also keeping caffeine content very light.

White Tea

Not only is white tea not withered, it is also air-dried and fired at a much lower temperature.  This keeps the young white tea leaf’s subtle, delicate flavors intact.

Herbal Teas

If right now you’re saying, “Wait a moment: herbal teas? Those aren’t teas at all!” you’d be absolutely correct.  Herbal teas are simply a collection of different herbs, and so they don’t go through the same robust processing method described below!

There’s our quick tutorial regarding tea processing.  Any questions?

2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Art of Making Tea”

  • Kim Bittner

    March 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    So is oolong tea considered green or black tea? Thanks for the article.

  • Kim Bittner

    March 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    So which catagory does oolong tea fall into ?

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