How is tea made – Has this question ever occurred in your mind? The flavorful and fragrant cup of tea that you enjoy daily is not only because of perfect brewing but also the way tea has been produced and processed. Right from the harvest to its production, tea leaves go through a sequence of procedures that come together to give you a perfect cuppa. The characteristics of finished tea are determined by several factors that include the region, temperature, and skills of the tea planter.
“How is tea made?” is an umbrella term. This can further be characterized based on the tea type being produced. In the endless collection of tea that exists, it is the process that each tea goes through, that sets them apart. True teas like Black Tea, Green Tea, White Tea, are produced from the tea plant, Camellia Sinensis. Herbal tisanes like Chamomile Tea, Peppermint Tea, differ from True teas and are made using various flowers and spices. However, each of them goes through a series of common steps like harvesting, withering, rolling, oxidizing, and drying that varies according to the type of tea used.
In this article, we will give you an insight into how tea is made. So, stick by till the end to find out how tea is made and how the humble Camellia Sinensis plant is capable of producing teas that are unique and stand out on their own.
How is tea made? Let’s find out!
As mentioned above, a few steps are common to tea production. Before discussing each kind of tea, individually, let’s first go through these basic steps so that you get an idea of how tea is made.
Cultivation of the Camellia Sinensis plant
Even though Camellia Sinensis is grown worldwide, the plant is most adaptable to a humid region and has rainfall for about half a year. Tea plants are predominantly grown in countries like China, India, North America, and Taiwan. The atmospheric conditions determine the kind of tea to be grown in a particular region. For example, Darjeeling Tea grown in the higher altitudes with a cool atmosphere may not grow well in the subtropical regions.
Harvesting the tea leaves
Generally, harvesting begins after about 3 years of cultivating the tea plant. Every kind of tea has a different harvesting time. Some teas like Pu’erh tea require tea leaves from plants that are considerably old as compared to others. So the harvesting time is tailored accordingly. Next is plucking the tea leaves that can be done by hand or by using a machine. The tea leaves are then examined and categorized into black, green, white, oolong, and pu’erh.
Processing the tea leaves
The most significant and essential step that decides the fate of the tea. This step defines the characteristics, flavor, and aroma of a tea.
This process is customized according to the tea variety, namely, black, green, oolong, or white tea. There are two ways of processing the tea leaves. One is the 4 steps orthodox method in which the tea leaves are withered, rolled, oxidized, and dried.
The other is the CTC – Crush-tear-curl method. Everything in this method remains the same except the rolling process. The tea leaves are crushed into tiny pieces using machines. The CTC method is commonly used for tea bags.
That was all about the 3 basic steps that determine how tea is made. Let us discover a little about how each variety of tea is processed and manufactured. We’ve also got quick recipes for them!
How is Black Tea made?
Black Tea goes through all the processes, right from withering to drying. Since Black Tea is oxidized for longer, it has a bold flavor and color.
- Wither: After the tea leaves are harvested, they are spread out in open air, under sunlight. Based on appropriate environmental conditions, they are withered for about 10 to 14 hours, to achieve the right amount of moisture loss. This process can also be done indoors.
- Roll: After withering, the tea leaves are subjected to a rolling process that takes about 5-60 minutes. Rolling is necessary because this prepares the tea leaves for the upcoming oxidation process. The tea leaves are exposed to air resulting in a few chemical reactions, thereby kick-starting the oxidation process.
- Oxidize: The tea leaves are then oxidized for 8 hours. Oxidation is the process in which the tea leaves are exposed to oxygen. The rich dark appearance and the strong flavor is the result of the oxidation process.
- Dry: Lastly, the tea leaves are dried using automatic dryers. This process takes place for 20-25 minutes at a temperature of 110-115 ℃.
To brew a cup of Black Tea-
- Boil a cup of water.
- Switch off the flame and add in 2 teaspoon Black Tea leaves.
- Steep the tea for 5-8 minutes.
- Strain the tea and pour it into your teacup. Add sugar if desired and enjoy hot!
How is Green Tea made?
Green Tea is a non-fermented tea, which means that it is not oxidized. Brewed Green Tea has a light-green appearance and a subtle flavor due to the absence of oxidation.
- Fixing: As soon as the tea leaves are harvested, they are heated to stop them from getting oxidized. This can be done by either steaming or pan-frying them.
- Roll: After fixing, the tea leaves are given a shape by rolling them. This process of rolling can be done by hand or by using machines.
- Dry: Finally, the tea leaves are dried using dryers to reduce the moisture in them.
To brew a cup of Green Tea-
- Add a cup of water to a container and bring it to a boil..
- Turn off the flame, add 2 teaspoons of Green Tea leaves.
- Steep the tea for 2-3 minutes. You can optionally add honey or lemon at this point.
- Strain the tea and enjoy hot!
How is White Tea made?
White Tea is minimally processed and is neither oxidized nor rolled. The tea leaves are harvested, withered, and finally dried. This gives White Tea a lighter appearance with a floral finish.
- Harvest: Young and gentle tea leaves are plucked from the tea plant. The leaves that have thin white hair around them are harvested, even before they open up completely.
- Wither: The harvested tea leaves are then withered for about 72 hours. This can be done outdoors, under sunlight, or indoors.
- Dry: The tea leaves are eventually dried to prevent them from oxidizing. This makes White Tea one of the most delicate kinds of tea.
For a cup of White Tea –
- Boil a cup of water to about 170 ℉.
- Pour boiled water into a cup and add 2 teaspoons of White Tea leaves.
- Steep the tea for 3-8 minutes.
- Strain the tea and drink hot!
How is Oolong Tea made?
Oolong Tea exists in between Black Tea and Green Tea. This depends on the level of oxidation. If oxidized for longer, it exhibits a character that is close to Black Tea. If it is less oxidized, it resembles Green Tea. Oolong Tea is predominantly grown in the low-lying areas of China and Taiwan.
- Wither: After harvesting, the tea leaves are withered to extract the moisture in them. The time is adjusted by the tea maker, depending on the environmental conditions. The leaves are first withered outdoors under sunlight, for some time, after which withering is continued indoors.
- Oxidize: Oxidation level lies somewhere in between that of Green and Black Tea. It lies in the range of 8-85%. After oxidizing, the tea leaves are subjected to a high temperature to stop further oxidation.
- Rolling and drying: Finally, the tea leaves are rolled to the desired shape and dried. Rolling and drying take place in cycles for up to 12 hours.
To brew a cup of Oolong Tea-
- Add a cup of water to a container and bring it to a boil. The ideal temperature is around 180 ℉.
- Transfer this to a cup and add about 2 teaspoons of Oolong Tea leaves.
- Steep the tea for 1-5 minutes. Steep for longer if you prefer a strong flavored tea.
- Strain and pour the tea into a teacup. Enjoy hot!
How is Decaffeinated Tea made?
The above-listed teas can be categorized as true teas since they come directly from the Camellia Sinensis plant. They all have varying contents of caffeine in them that depend on the oxidation levels. For the ones who are sensitive to caffeine or are simply looking to reduce their caffeine intake, teas can be decaffeinated too. Black tea and Green Tea are the most commonly decaffeinated tea types. There are 4 ways to decaffeinate teas.
- Methylene Chloride: Tea leaves are decaffeinated by soaking them in methyl chloride. Even though this method retains most of the original flavor of the tea, it is not considered a healthy way of decaffeination.
- Carbon Dioxide: This method is a natural way of removing caffeine from the tea. Tea leaves are pressure cooked with CO2 that removes the caffeine from them. This method does not devoid the tea of its flavor and health benefits.
- Water Processing: Even though water processing is used for coffee decaffeination, in some cases it is used for decaffeinating tea as well. To remove caffeine, tea is soaked in hot water for some time. This water then goes through a carbon filtration process to remove the absorbed caffeine. Finally, water is mixed with the tea to get back the original flavors.
- Ethyl Acetate: Ethyl Acetate dissolves the caffeine in the tea. This method is commonly used to remove caffeine from tea bags.
How is Thai Tea made?
Thai Tea or Thai Iced Tea is a popular beverage that is commonly served in Southeast Asia, precisely Thailand, as the name suggests. Authentic Thai Tea mainly consists of Black Tea, ice, and condensed milk. A modern twist to the tea is given by adding a few spices and orange food color that gives it a distinct appearance and flavor.
To make Thai Tea –
- 1 ½ tablespoon Black Tea, preferably Assam Tea
- 2 star anise
- 3 cloves
- 2-3 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ cup condensed milk
- Ice cubes
Steps to follow-
- Take water in a container and bring it to a boil.
- Add black tea and the spices and steep the tea for about 10 minutes.
- Strain the tea, add sugar and let the mixture cool down.
- Add ice cubes to a glass and pour the tea over it. Beat the summer heat with a cup of thick, creamy, and frothy Thai Tea!
How is Bubble Tea made?
Bubble Tea or Boba is a beverage native to Taiwan. Brewing a cup of Bubble Tea is a breeze and requires only a few basic ingredients. Bubble Tea tastes best with a strong variety of tea like Black Tea or Jasmine Tea.
To make Bubble Tea-
- 1 tablespoon Black Tea
- 1 cup water
- A few tapioca pearls
- 1 ½ tablespoon milk
- 2 tablespoon sugar syrup
- Ice cubes
Steps to follow
- The first step is to boil a cup of water. Next, add in Black Tea and steep the tea for 8-10 minutes.
- Strain and pour the tea into a tall glass. Let it cool down completely.
- Add tapioca pearls, milk, sugar syrup, and ice. Sit back and enjoy a cup of Bubble Tea!
How is Tea tree oil made?
Tea tree oil is a common essential oil that is extracted from the Australian tea tree that is different from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Tea tree oil has been in the spotlight for quite some time due to its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. The leaves of the tea tree undergo steam distillation after which oil is extracted from it. Tea tree oil is a core ingredient found in cosmetic products and medicines.
If you are overwhelmed with all the information on how tea is made, we’d suggest you take a break with a cup of chilled Thai Tea or Bubble tea! While brewing a cup of tea can be done in a flash, the process of making tea is all about the tiny little details that cannot be overlooked. Now that you know how tea is made, next time you unwind to a cup of tea, appreciate the effort and hard work that must have gone into delivering you a relishing cup!