The leaf of the plant Camellia sinensis is the raw material used to make the popular beverage we call “tea”. The diverse processing methods used by tea factories around the world, makes the end product taste different. The attention to detail in the manufacturing process is very important to bring out the best in terms of the flavour and character of the tea. The art of tea manufacture is a skill learned and passed down over centuries by tea makers and each take pride in the parcels of tea they produce.
The traditional orthodox Western tea manufacturing process has been perfected over centuries. It begins with the picking of fresh tea leaves – two leaves and a bud.
The tea leaves are carefully picked by hand and put into baskets or sacks by the pickers. The leaves selected are the tender two leaves and a bud – which is called fine picking. These are the best tea leaves for manufacture.
The picked leaves are transported to the factory where they are laid out on large troughs with hot or ambient air passed underneath. This is done to reduce the moisture content of the leaves from approximately 75% to 45%. By doing this the leaves are prepared for the next step – Rolling.
The withered leaves are passed into a Roller which is a machine that rolls the tea in circular motions. This is done through applying varying degrees of pressure. The rolling process is to break up the cells containing different enzymes inside the tea leaf which releases flavour.
4. Roll Breaking
Once the leaves are rolled they are called dhools. The dhools are then sifted into different particle sizes. This step is called roll breaking.
5. Fermentation (Oxidation)
The dhools are then put onto a flat slab or surface that is approximately 4 to 5 inches deep to ferment or oxidise. During this time important chemical reactions take place in the tea.
6. Firing / Drying
Once the tea leaves are fermented they are sent through a dryer or oven to be fired or baked. This stops the fermentation and brings out certain flavour components in the tea.
7. Sifting & Grading
The fired tea leaves are then sent through different mesh sizes and are sorted into grades such as OP, Pekoe, BOP which are names based on the particle size.
8. Tasting & Evaluating
Once the tea is made, it is brewed and tasted by expert Tea Masters to ensure the correct colour of the leaf, the liquor and the flavour and aroma are upto standard.