Have you ever wondered how those tea leaves you enjoy are picked?
Tea leaves are harvested several times throughout the year and all tea except herbal teas, come from the Camellia sinensis plant. These plants grow like a bush and will produce new shoots from 1 to 4 times a year, depending on where they are grown.
Most Tea grows generally in subtropical regions and the main producers like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Kenya, India, China in hills and mountains from sea level to 7000 feet in altitude.
Harvesting and Processing Tea
- Much tea is harvested by hand picking, it is better quality than machine picking which does not get the higher quality top 2 leaves. The youngest shoots and bud or tip are picked, the tip is an unexpanded leaf at end of shoot.
The uppermost stem and tip is called a “flush”. This is the basic part of tea production. Each tea variety picked has different requirements and use local. experienced tea pickers.
- There are the four main types of tea: green, black, oolong and white, all are processed differently after picking giving them their unique taste, color and aroma. The best teas are considered from the “first flush” picked in the spring since weather is cooler and it’s before the rainy season; or the “second flush” picked in the summer can be a good alternative.
- The environment or terrior is determines the growth and type of tea. Sunshine and rain will accelerate growth, but too much rain can be a problem; too much humidity in the air will not let leaves dry properly.
In high altitudes the tea bushes are planted to follow contours of mountains and prevents soil erosion. Bushes that are kept about one-meter high are easier to hand pick versus the higher tea trees, which can be machine harvested.
- Once the tea leaves are picked oxidation starts reacting, so they go directly into processing houses at the tea farm. Oxidation is the technical name for what happens like when you cut an apple and color changes to brown as it sits open in the air.
Tea oxidation is closely monitored and it determines the type and quality of your tea, such as green, black, oolong.
Methods used to process tea include:
- Withering- tea is dried in the sun or under sun shades.
- Rolling-where leaves are rolled into shapes, pellets, twigs or balls
- Oxidation is for black tea; for Green teas it changes to Steaming or pan-firing leaves.
- Drying or roasting
- Sorting by grade, large leaf pieces, smaller leaf pieces or dust.
These stages are all done before tea goes out for consumption either as whole leaf or in tea bags.
Now, when you enjoy your tea you can appreciate the hours of harvesting by the tea pickers and care of processing the leaves giving us a drink of good, high quality great tasting tea.
Cindy Burrows, B.S., M.T., Herbalist and is a Nutrition and Wellness Consultant helping individuals with health programs to improve life and happiness. She is a writer, speaker and owner of several businesses.