How Tea is Produced
Tea production techniques around the world vary somewhat depending on whether the primary requirement is creating quality leaf which commands a higher price per kilo or to achieve higher yields (picking more than two leaves and a bud means more stalk (known as fibrous) and wood is gathered) where output is higher but quality is substantially compromised which means a lower selling price per Ton (such as mechanical picking).
Tea in most African growing states is picked all year round, but dryer periods tend to offer an improved quality with bushes growing back their leaves and buds within seven to fourteen days of them being harvested. It takes, depending on altitude, three to five years for Tea bushes to be ready for Tea Production grown from cuttings. Once the Tea is picked great care must be taken by the pickers to ensure that the Leaf is not damaged or bruised in its journey on to the factory.
Initially that days Harvest is weighed to verify what to pay the pickers for their day’s toils, it is then put on conveyor belts that send the pickings on to huge withering troughs. The Tea is typically left there for around 8 hours, during this time the leaves are allowed to become Soft, fragile and malleable. These troughs have Large Turbines fitted, which sends warm dry air through the picked leaves, which can be made to accelerate the process if there has been heavy rainfall on that day’s harvest or indeed too much leaf has come in to handle that day with the overall intention to reduce the moisture within the leaves.
Once the Tea leaves are in a suitable condition, the Tea is broken down, normally by CTC (Cut, Tear & Curl) method (effectively it mangles the Leaf in lines of 3 or 4 rollers) which enables the finished Tea product to infuse faster or by the original traditional Orthodox Manufacture (where the Leaf is rolled), this rupturing of the leaf sets off an oxidisation process where it releases juices and enzymes and rolls and compresses the Tea leaves. Orthodox Green Tea will now be sent directly to the dryers at this point.
The Black Tea product now needs to be fermented, this means the mulched Tea leaves which are still green at this moment are put in large tanks and then allowed to stand for about 90 minutes, during this time the Tea naturally absorbs oxygen, internally combusts and the temperature also raises up to 98 degrees (monitored at all times) and this is a crucial part of the black tea making process and changes the leaf to a coppery brown colour.
The Mulched coppery brown leaf is now sent over to dryers which seals and dries the leaf and normally takes around 8 minutes to complete, this again is a crucial factor within the process where the moisture content is being reduced down from 98% to just 2.8%.
The dried tea (whether Green or Black) is now sorted into Graded sizes (vibrated over lines of different sized meshes) which is then weighed and packed into Sacks, sadly Tea Chests are no longer available.