The tea bush Camellia sinensis was originally used as a medicinal herb. And during the 3rd century it started to became a social beverage. It was also about this time the Chinese began cultivating the tea bush and processing the leaves, which turned the bitter concoction into a delicious beverage.
Black tea production
The tea leaves go through the following steps:
- Withering: the leaves are first allowed to wither for a few hours. This reduces the amount of moisture in the leaves.
- Maceration: the fibres of the leaf are broken during the maceration process. This will release the moisture. There are two methods: the Orthodox and CTC.
- Orthodox: this is a gentle form of rolling the leaf with a machine.
- Crash Tear Curl (CTC): this is a more thorough process that tears the leaf into pieces.
- Oxidation: the moisture reacts with the oxygen and this turns the leaves dark red. Black tea will go through the full oxidation process, whereas oolong will only be partially oxidized.
- Drying: the oxidation process is stopped when the leaves are heated and dried. The finished tea leaf will only contain about three percent moisture.
- Sorting: the leaves are sorted according to size.
Green tea production
When producing green tea it’s important to prevent the oxidation process from occurring. This is why the leaves are heated immediately after plucking in order to inactivate the enzymes that would otherwise start the oxidation process.
Chinese green tea is therefore roasted in large pans to prevent oxidation, whereas Japanese green tea is steamed. After that the tea leaves are rolled, heated (again) and finally dried.