OUR DARJEELING PLANTATION SITES ON THE FOOT OF THE HIMALAYAS, 4,000 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL. AT THIS ALTITUDE, LOW OXYGEN LEVELS SLOW THE TEA BUSH GROWTH, PRODUCING DELICATE, EXQUISITELY FLAVOURED LEAVES.
OUR MASTERFUL PICKERS TAKE GREAT CARE TO GATHER ONLY TWO LEAVES AND A BUD AT A TIME.
THE ORGANIC TEA PROJECT’S LEAVES LIVE LIFE IN THE FAST LANE.
STEP-BY-STEP PROCESS OF TEA MANUFACTURE
1 | PLUCKING(Picking)
In general, there are 2 flushes per year, early spring and early summer. Autumn/winter pickings are less common although can have up to 4 or 5 during the year depending on climate.
2 | WITHERING
Tea leaves begin to wilt straight after picking with the onset of enzymatic oxidation. Withering is the first stage in removing excess water from the leaves and is done by laying them out on mats or trays in the sun or in a breezy room. Leaves loose about a quarter of their water content during withering, as well as breaking down the leaf proteins, which is important for the eventual taste of the tea.
3 | PROCESSING
Otherwise called leaf maceration. The tea is bruised or torn in order to promote or quicken oxidation. There are various methods depending on region/area i.e. shaking/tossing in a bamboo tray/tumbling in baskets/kneading, rolling, crushing, tearing by machine. This process further breaks down the leaf structure and releases more water content which aids in the change of the tea taste.
4 | OXIDATION
The leaves are then left in a climate controlled room where they turn darker. This process breaks down the chlorophyll and the tannins are released. The tea producer can control when to stop the oxidation as this is dependant on the desired qualities in the final tea. For light Oolongs oxidation can be 5-40%, darker Oolongs 60-70%, and Black tea is 100% oxidised. Oxidation is very important in the formation of taste and aroma which give tea its liquor colour, strength and briskness. Under or over oxidation can result in grassy (under) or thick winey (over) flavours.
5 | ROLLING
The damp tea leaves are rolled either by hand or machine which causes tea to wrap around itself. Rolling action also causes more juices, oil and sap to ooze out, therefore, enhancing the taste of the tea. Strips of tea can be formed into various shapes (spirals, pellets, balls, cones, bricks). With Oolong the strips of tea leaf are rolled into spheres or half spheres, done by placing damp leaves into cloth bags which are kneaded.
6 | DRYING
Done to ‘finish’ the tea for sale. Can be done a number of ways - panning, sunning, airdrying or baking (most common). Drying is responsible for many new flavour compounds, particularly important in green tea.
7 | AGING
Not always required but some teas need additional ageing/second fermentation or baking to reach drinking potential e.g. green tea pu'erh has a bitter and harsh taste until 2nd fermentation when it becomes sweet and mellow.
Oolong can benefit from ageing if fired over charcoal. Flavoured teas at this stage are given aromas.
8 | SORTING
Teas are passed through sorting machines that use meshes of varying sizes. CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) teas pass through fibre extractors to remove excessive fibres.
9 | PACKING
Transfer of single-graded bulked tea from storage bins to the packing area. Tea is measured and funnelled into large paper sacks/chests/vacuum packs/jute bags for transportation.