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The Manufacture of Black Tea

According to legends, black tea and its consumption first appeared serendipitously: sometime in the 17th century a green tea shipment had left China. Arriving in London the tea had turned black. Anyway, it has been well received by English people who requested more, much more…

The Manufacture of Black Tea
Nowadays there are two methods of black tea manufacture, the first destined to facilitate tea bagging (CTC or “Crush, Tear, Curl” process, in which the tea leaves are chopped) and the second, the most interesting for us tea connoisseurs, which keeps the leaves intact. Following this method, five steps are necessary to go from the freshly plucked tea leave to the one infusing in your cup:

1. Withering

The purpose of this step is to get rid of 50% of moisture from the tea leaves to further process it without tearing it apart. For that the leaves are laid on a rack in ventilated rooms in constant temperature. That first step lasts for 20 to 30 hours.

2. Rolling and screening

The more the leaves are rolled, the more they oxidize and the more the infusion will bring a strongly flavoured beverage. Rolling helps facilitate oxidation and release the enzymes from the leaves. Hand rolling is of course used for the finest black teas. More often the process is mechanical and is performed in two steps: a first light rolling followed by a stronger second one. After this thirty-minute treatment, the leaves are a bit sticky and agglomerate together. They have to be prepared by passing them through a sort of comb: this operation is called “screening”.

3. Oxidation

This is the decisive step in black tea manufacture, sometimes also called fermentation. During one to three hours, the leaves are spread in layers of approximately five centimetres in damp rooms (90% to 95% humidity), where the temperature is held between 20° C to 22° C. During this oxidation process, two flavoured peaks appear: the first one after merely fifteen minutes and the second indicates the moment the oxidation must be stopped. At that time the leaves have acquired their brown hue.

4. Torrefaction

The leaves are exposed to a temperature of 90° C during fifteen to twenty minutes, which annihilate the enzyme responsible for oxidation. This heat will also reduce the moisture present in the leaves to 5-6%. Once taken out of the kiln, the leaves are cooled down.

5. Sorting

Impurities, such as twigs, are removed. The leaves are sorted out: the broken leaves on one side, the unscathed ones on the other. The latter are also sorted out according to the fineness of the plucking. Once sorted, tea is preserved in silos until its packed.

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