Process of growing and making tea
When you are preparing tea, you will be enjoying the result of a long, ancient and intricate process. Your tea comes from plantations all around the world that work with techniques that are over three thousand years old. The culture surrounding the drinking of tea has evolved into a beautiful philosophy of calm ceremony in Japan, and in England the entire nation has a collective afternoon rest just for the pleasure of the brew! If you love the flavor and the practice of tea drinking, it’s always interesting to have a look at the process that brings the leaves to your doorstep.
The entire process of preparing tea begins on the farm. Soils and weather make an incredible difference in the quality of the tea plants. Here’s a tip: in general, teas grown in the acidic soils of mountainous areas are better than teas from lowland areas. These plants are usually cropped into bushes, but in nature they usually grow into trees. There are only three types of tea plant, separated by their leaf types. Small-leafed plants, Camilla Sinsensis, are thought to be the original type, while the long-leafed Camilla Sinsensis Assamica type was a later hybrid developed in India in the 18th century, from stolen Chinese plants. A third hybrid, Cambod, has intermediate sizes of leaves and is grown and drunk primarily in Southeast Asia. Each type has a few strengths and weaknesses in contrast to the others, although Chinese shortleaf growers will insist that every technique for preparing tea originated in their country and thus sets the standards for the rest.
Following the maturation of the plants, there is the harvest. The newest and most tender leaves from the tops of the bushes are cropped away. The leaves will re-grow themselves in about a week, and each of these bloomings is called a flush. Some teas, especially in India, are made from a mix of tender new leaf buds, along with mature leaves. (In the world of Herbal Teas, there are many blossoms, leaves, buds, seeds, stems and fruits that are added to hot water to make a “tea-style” of drink.) One winter brew called Kukicha, is made from the stems and old leaves of the tea plant, and is popular as a health drink.
After being plucked from the tea bush, the leaves and buds are brought to a special warehouse or factory designed for preparing tea. There the leaves are transformed into one of several types of teas, namely green tea, black tea, Oolong tea, white tea, yellow tea and post-fermented tea. “Fermented tea” is a misnomer from the tea industry – tea doesn’t undergo true fermentation, and the term refers to the part of the curing process that oxidizes the leaves. In fact, when tea leaves do ferment, a mildly toxic fungus will grow on them and ruin the leaves! When the leaves are separated into there types, each of them undergoes a different process that may include wilting, bruising, partial or full oxidation, reheating, shaping, drying, and curing to take on the characteristics of the end product.
The final step of bring tea to your doorstep is the blending process. Blending may occur at the tea factory or at storage facilities prior to shipment. In India, preparing tea for the market is economically important enough to have given rise to the national Tea Board which ensures the origin and quality by certifying labels for various specialty tea products. China relies on tradition to keep blending clearly labeled. Most teas sold commercially in the U.S. are blends