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The Tea Shrub

Tea is a tree-like plant, that is maintained shrub-like for the tea cultivation by regular pruning. Tea belongs to the species of the camellia and the botanical name is Camellia Sinensis (L) O. Kuntze. The evergreen shrub has got dark, ridged, leather-like leaves, the flower is white or rose-coloured. Usually the flowers are removed in order to promote the growth of the leaves. There are different types of tea, e.g. black, green, white or oolong, which are all from the same plant. The difference is the way the leaves are processed.

Technically, rooibos, mate, fruit and herbal teas are no real teas. They are infusion of fruits, herbs, leaves, flowers or other parts of different plant.

The Tea Harvest

The tea leaves are picked between Spring and Autumn. The plucking requires a large amount of care as well as skill and is often done by women. Generally, only the upper leaf bud and the next two leaves, the youngest ones of a sprout (“two leaces and a bud”) are plucked, because they contain the most delicate aroma. Further, i.e. older leaves than these generally have a negative influence on the quality of the finishes tea.

In the higher up, cooler regions, the tea naturally grows slower. This enables the particularly fine, aromatic character to enfold. The harvesting time also has a significant influence on the quality of the tea. The average plucking capacity amounts to approximately 16–24 kg of green leaves per day. This amount yields 4–6 kg of finished tea. The green, fresh leaves are still entirely neutral in scent and first have to pass through various production steps, in order to create aromatic tea.

The Tea Production

       

The picked leaf undergoes a full fermentaion process composed of five basic steps: withering, rolling, fermentin, drying and sorting.

Withering
The humidity content of the leaves is reduced by about 30% in order to make them soft and flexible for the subsequent rolling. They are exposed to hot air for 12 -18 hours. The leaves must not be broken or bruised.

Rolling
The withered green leaves are rolled by hand or in rolling machines in order to break open the cells, bringing the cell fluid into contact with the oxygen in the air. This introduces the fermentation as well as the development of the essential oils which then determine the scent and flavour of the teas. The rolled tea, which now already starts to ferment, is brought into the fermentation room.

Fermentation
The fermentation is an oxidation and tanning process of the cell fluids which have been released during the rolling. For the fermentation, the leaves are spread out on tables in layers of 10 cm. The room is humidified by spraying water from rotating ventilators. During the fermentation – which takes 2-3 hours – the leaves change their colour which gradually becomes a copper-red. This colour is found again in the wet tea leaves of the infusion. The “tea maker” needs to constantly monitor the degree of the oxidation, particularly with respect to the scent of the wet leaves. The quality of the finishes tea is very much dependent on the correct fermentation.

Drying
The fermentation is halted when the desired grade of fermentation is reached, i.e. as soon as the tea has developed its typical smell and the copper-red colour it is dried. The starting temperature of the wood-fuelled ovens amounts to 90 C. The high temperature binds the cell fluid firmly to the leaves. After the 20-minute long drying process the humidity content of the tea is down to approximately 6%. Later, when the tea is infused, the cell fluid which stuck to the dried leaves is solved in the hot water and produces the aromatic and invigorating drink.

Sorting
The black tea, which is released by the dryer, is the so-called raw tea, which is now sieved via a number of shaking, mechanical sieves with varying sizes with which the common leaf grades are separated from each other. This operation also cools and aerates the leaves. Once this process is complete 100 kg of fresh leaves will have yielded about 25 kg of black tea.

Depending on the sieve sizes, sorting generally yields the following grades:
leaf tea – broken tea – fannings – dust.

Generally valid: the smaller the leaf, the stronger the infusion.

Green Tea Production

Green tea differs from black tea simply by it not being fermented, i.e. not altered by oxidation. During the green tea production, the tea tannins and enzymes are destroyed via steam treatment or roasting after the withering, before the rolling starts – the tea is “steamed” and then rolled and dried. This ensures that the leaves are not coloured copper-red like the black tea leaves, but remein olive-green. The infusion varies depending on the variety, cultivation area and plucking period and can be anything from light yellow to dark green.