How is tea made?

A green tea field, with mountains and a tea plucker in the field

You don't need to know how tea is made to enjoy it, but in case you were interested, this post will cover the entire process from beginning to end.

The process is different depending on which tea you're trying to make, but it typically begins with camellia sinensis. Camellia comes from the latinized form of Georg Josef Kamel, a botanist who tended tea bushes in the Philippines. Carl Linnaeus, creator of the taxonomy system we still use today, wanted to pay tribute by using his name for the genus. Sinensis comes from the Latin for "from China".

Once the tea is ready to be harvested, it is typically harvested by hand or machine. Tea harvesters are primarily women who start early in the day as temperatures are cooler. They work to pluck the new leaves and drop them into bags or baskets. For finer teas, only the bud and the next two youngest leaves are harvested.

When the tea arrives at the processing facility, it is weighed and sorted. This sorting is to check that the expected quality is achieved, and sticks and other debris are discarded. The leftover tea can now be withered. Certain tea processes skip this step, however where it is applied it is to reduce moisture. Reducing the moisture does a number of things to the tea:

  • Prevents the leaves from breaking into small pieces
  • Contributes to the flavor
  • Changes the leaves chemically

The next step depends on what kind of tea you are making, but is often called fixing. Some Chinese green teas pan fire the leaves in a hot bowl-shaped pan or mechanical drum. Some Japanese green teas are made in a process where they aren't withered. Instead, the tea is steamed. This step releases enzymes that alter the flavor and prevents oxidation of the leaves, keeping them their illustrious green color.

Afterwards, leaves are rolled, in a motion similar to rubbing your hands together. This cracks open tea leaf cells which sets off oxidation and releases their juices. Controlling the oxidation of the tea allows control over the aroma, color, and flavor of the leaves. The longer the leaves oxidize, the darker the tea becomes. Both white and green teas and non-oxidized, so they skip this step. Oolong teas are semi-oxidized. Black teas are allowed to fully oxidize. This also impacts the antioxidant levels, naturally.

Drying is the final step. The leaves can be dried in a number of ways, from open air drying to baking. Proper drying is required to make the leaves have a good shelf life. If the leaves are dried too quickly, they can remain wet in the center and grow mold later. If they are dried at too high or too low a temperature, it can impact flavor or color.

After tea is dried, it is also ready for shipping. Why not ship some tea from Teavern to your home today?

Further reading and viewing, and references:

Modern Tea, Lisa Boalt Richardson

How Japanese Green Tea is Made, Life Where I'm From

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