How Tea Leaves Are Harvested and Processed
Harvesting tea from the camellia sinesis plant takes a lot of time, care, and patience. High-quality loose-leaf tea is as delicious as it is thanks to the careful steps taken by the people involved with its production. If you’d like to learn more about what it takes to create a great loose-leaf tea, this guide below will break down how tea leaves are harvested and processed.
When it’s time to begin harvesting tea leaves, the professionals behind this process know exactly where to go—the flush. The term “flush” refers to a section on top of the plant that contains a couple of tea leaves and buds that will yield the best tea-drinking experience in terms of flavor. Harvesting tea leaves by hand prevents the tea leaves from sustaining damage. Certain machines can harvest the leaves, but they won’t provide consumers with the same high-quality tea-drinking experience that handpicking provides.
Tea leaves contain a high amount of moisture that manufacturers need to remove before packaging and shipping the tea to consumers. To do this, manufacturers lay out the tea leaves so that they can dry (or “wither”) for hours, allowing the moisture to leave so that they can be properly rolled and packaged. Failing to remove the moisture before packaging will result in fungi-ridden tea leaves. Just as you shouldn’t eat moldy bread, you shouldn’t brew moldy tea.
Aside from drying, the leaves will also need to go through a “rolling” process. The act of rolling the tea leaves promotes two factors—oxidation and moisture removal. Oxidation involves oxygen interacting with the cells of the tea leaf in a way that will influence its appearance, aroma, and flavor. Rolling can also allow the juice within the tea leaves to rise, influencing the overall flavor they’ll provide when you brew the tea at home.
Once the oxidation process begins, the tea leaves must rest in a warm, humid area to ferment. How long the manufacturer allows the tea leaves to oxidize or ferment will determine the type of tea the leaf produces. For instance, three to four hours of fermentation will result in a leaf that produces black tea, while green tea requires far less time for fermentation. After the leaves ferment, they need to go through a drying process once more. Manufacturers use high temperatures to halt any further oxidation from taking place and to remove any remaining moisture from the leaves. After this, the tea is ready to go in a package and, eventually, in your cup.
Now that you know how tea leaves are harvested and processed, you have something interesting to ponder the next time you buy loose-leaf tea online. When you take your first sip, you’ll be able to imagine and appreciate the steps that were meticulously taken to ensure your cup of tea tastes and smells as delightful as it does.