Tea is a plant cultivated only for its leaves.
They are picked as many times per year as tea vegetates, i.e. gives new shoots. Tea is harvested all year around in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, South India and China, the regions where summer lasts forever. The further to North plantations are, the shorter is harvesting season. For instance, it lasts for 8 months in the North-eastern part of India and further to North, in China tea is harvested only four times a year from April to September.
Tea is picked manually. The art of harvesting has been developing and improving for centuries. Such a precise work requires not only knack and skilfulness, but also particular attention since not all the leaves are to be taken from the bush: only some of the most delicate, young and ripe ones with part of stem and bud (or tips), an unblown leaf at the end of a shoot. These leaves together with stem and tips are called flush. It is a basis of tea production. Flush with just a couple of leaves is called sorted or “golden”. Usually flush has three, four and sometimes five leaves.
Picked leaf does not resemble at all the tea we are used to. Before green leaf turns into common black tea and is served to us it undergoes several stages of processing.
Processing of tea leaf starts within an hour since picking when they arrive to the factory.
First of all it should be dried (withered). Leaves are laid out on wire mesh where they stay for several hours. It is the simplest natural method. Sometimes to fasten the process a ventilation system is used. However too fast withering decreases the quality of future tea and thus most manufacturers use only traditional (natural) method.
After withering tea is ready for curling, which is done by a special device called roller. It helps to constantly curl, press and turn over tea leaves with the purpose of leaf cell deformation on the molecular level to release catechin compounds and enzymes that enrich future tea with its unique aroma. To achieve such results in case of manual processing tea leaves were grounded between the hands or by various wooden tools.
After that fermentation takes place, which is one of the most important stages. Tea leaves are left in climate-control room, where transformation of tannins and catechins starts under the influence of oxygen and enzymes. The process is important for formation of many taste and aroma compounds, which give a tea its liquor colour. The process is controlled by men who determine when tea reaches the top of its taste and flavour and then finish fermentation.
Then tea is placed in a dry chamber with a very hot air where it is dried, rapidly cooled down and prepared for long-term storage.
Dry tea is sorted in vibrating sieves with different mesh diameters to produce tea leaves of the same shape and size. Finally, it is packed and delivered to customers or to tea auctions.