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Tea Processing

Posted on 04/06/2023

Did you know that all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis? The way the leaf is processed is the main factor in determining what type of tea the freshly plucked leaves will become. Below is a processing chart that shows the tea’s journey from the garden to your cup. Each growing region uses its own techniques and traditional methods. Some have been passed down through the generations while others are more contemporary and were invented in the last century.

Tea Processing Chart

Key Terms:

Fresh Tea Leaves – Harvested daily, the fresh growth of the plant, a set of two leaves and a bud, is hand plucked.

Withered – The fresh leaves are laid into troughs, where they begin to wilt and oxidation gradually starts. In most instances, forced hot air helps lower moisture levels in the leaves.

Shaded – To produce Matcha tea, tea rows are shaded twenty-one days before plucking to block sunlight and boost chlorophyll and theanine levels in the leaves.

Pan Fired – China green teas, such as Lung Ching (Dragonwell), are pan fired in a wok to stop oxidation and retain their green color. Pan firing gives the tea a chestnut quality not found in other offerings.

Steamed – Japanese green teas, such as Sencha, are steamed after plucking. This stops oxidation and ensures that the leaves stay as green as possible.

Bruised/Rolling – Wilted tea leaves are bruised and rolled to encourage oxidation, a key step in making Oolong and black tea. Rolling breaks down the enzymes in the tea leaf wall, causing them to react with the oxygen.

Oxidation – The level of oxidation determines the kind of tea that will be produced. White and green tea have minimal oxidation. Oolong tea is partially oxidized: from 5% to 40%, and black tea is fully oxidized.

Fermentation – Shou Pu-Erh tea processing requires that the tea leaves be moistened and piled for about six weeks. This encourages microbial activity, which causes the leaves to ferment. This process was invented as a quick way to mimic the traditional aging process of Sheng Pu-Erh.

Dried/Fixed – After all processing steps are completed, tea leaves are dried to remove all moisture and stop oxidation.

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