- What Does It All Mean
- The Six Families
- The Process
- The Six Become Five
- Red Tea / Black Tea
The entire process of producing tea can be broken into the following steps: cultivation, pruning, plucking, withering, rolling, oxidization, firing/drying, sorting/grading, and packing. Of these, the first two steps are considered part of the growing process and the last seven steps are the manufacturing process. The key steps for determining the specific type of tea are withering, rolling/breaking, oxidation, and firing.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN
Tea is complicated. Tea is simple. There is just one tea plant, known by the name of Camellia Sinensis, while the various types of tea available stem from a number of factors, such as local climatic conditions, harvesting methods and processing techniques.
The natural environment surrounding young tea plants profoundly influences their quality. The flavor of tea will vary by changing just one of the fundamental elements, such as soil, water, climate and sun exposure. The plants that grow in tropical and subtropical regions marked by a mild climate, and the optimal proportion of humidity, rain and sun, produce the highest quality teas.
The tea plant requires a well-drained acidic soil and a rainy, cloudy, foggy and mildly sunny climate.
The best teas are produced in the mountains, where the plantations enjoy the best conditions in which to grow. These teas are appreciated for their freshness and their lingering aromatic notes, suitable for multiple infusions. For plain-growing teas, it is important to shade the plants, creating the optimal undergrowth conditions for their growth.
Tea quality also depends on the harvest season. Spring is by far the best. At this time, the buds are dark green, smooth, full-bodied, and with a good water content, and are rich in aromas and highly antioxidant and nutritional substances.
There are various types of harvesting methods, chosen by the producer, and these determine the quality of the end product:
– just the shoot
– the shoot and one leaf
– the shoot and two leaves
– the shoot and three leaves
– the shoot and four leaves
– the shoot and five leaves
Mechanical or semi-mechanical harvesting is widespread in countries where the cost of labor is too high (in japan, for example) or where standard or poor quality tea reserved for tea bags is produced on a large scale (the “crush, tear and curl” method practiced mainly in India).
THE SIX FAMILIES
In China, tea is traditionally classified into six families, based on the color taken on by the leaves and liquor after processing. According to this color classification, tea can be split into the following macro-categories:
BLACK TEAS, [Pu-Erh]
Each of these categories includes a great variety of extremely different products, with their own unique sensorial experiences. The six families are considered general categories. In addition to the six families, split by color classification, Tea can be furthered classified by harvest season into spring, summer and autumn teas. They can be defined mountain or plain teas, depending on where they were cultivated.
At Euphoria, our teas are the product of a manual harvest. This ensures the selection of the best shoots and leaves.
WITHERING THE TEA
All types of tea (black, oolong, green, white, pu-erh, and dark tea) go through this process. After the leaves are plucked from the tea plant, they are spread out onto trays or screens. Withering is often conducted in open sheds by utilizing the natural breeze.
During this process the leaves lose 50-80% of their moisture and become limp and flaccid, which makes them suitable for rolling.
The aim of rolling is to twist the tea leaves, either by hand or through a mechanical process. This ruptures the cell walls of the tea leaves, releasing enzymatic juices. After rolling, the tea goes through a roll-breaking machine, which separates the large clumps of rolled leaf into smaller, more consistent pieces.
Oxidation, which is sometimes incorrectly referred to as fermentation, is the process which makes black tea different from all other types of tea. The tea leaves are spread out, no more than 2-3 inches thick on large troughs with wire mesh bottoms, allowing for sufficient air flow. The leaves are left to sit out for a period of time, during which they will lose most of their remaining moisture and absorb extra O2 from the atmosphere.
Oxidizing the Leaves
Oxidation typically occurs in rooms with a temperature between 75 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 90%. Oxidation times range from 45 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the temperature and the style of tea desired. White and green teas are not formally oxidized. Oolong tea is partially, and black is fully oxidized.
FIRING AND SORTING
During this stage, a gentle heat is applied to the leaf to stop the oxidation process. Firing may be done by blowing hot air over the leaf or running the leaf through heat tunnels. The temperature for firing is between 140 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit and lasts from 10 minutes to no more than an hour. This heating, or “firing” processes destroys the specific shapes of the enzyme proteins in the leaf, killing the enzymes so the leaf is stable and does not mold or break down.
Once the tea is fired, the leaves are sorted into grades of different sizes. Sorting may be done by hand or with the use of sizing equipment. Often, tea leaves are sorted using mesh screens of various sizes. When the tea has completed its processing and is sorted, it is packaged and sold for consumption.
THE SIX BECOME FIVE
In China, so-called “Black Teas” are actually known as Red Tea (Hong Cha) because of the reddish color of the brew. True Black Chinese Teas as they are known in China are the post-fermented (aged) teas of which the Pu-Erh family of teas is the most famous. Pu-Erh teas are a type of fermented tea that is aged like vintage wine, continuing the fermentation process over time (post-fermentation). To complicate matters, Pu-Erh tea comes in green and black varieties!
For 2,500 years, until the invention of Black Tea in the mid-17th century (Late Ming/Early Qing Dynasty), the majority of tea consumed in China had been green un-fermented and later, semi-fermented teas. Here’s how all the confusion began.
The story is that a passing army entered Fujian Province from Jianxi and camped at a tea factory in the Wuyi Mountain area. This held up tea production at the factory and after the army left, the leaves produced a tea with an unusual red color. To recoup the losses from this delay, a farmer looked for a way to accelerate the drying time and save his order. Since the army used all the charcoal in the area, which was usually used for drying green tea, he placed the leaves over a smoking fire of pine wood which caused a chemical reaction in the leaves and imparted a distinct smoky and fruity (Long An) flavor to the tea.
The confusion in naming came about in the 17th century when Dutch and British traders who traded in Xiamen City, Fujian Province were first introduced to Black Tea. They thought they had found the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They noticed that the leaves were darker than the usual un-fermented green varieties consumed throughout China. This was a tea which had a taste they liked much better than green tea, could be shipped for long distances without spoiling and actually improved with age. And the label of “Black Tea” has stuck in the West ever since.
“Lapsang Souchong” was born and led the way for the development of a whole family of teas which became very popular in China and a staple in the West – and helped to shape modern history in the process. There are hundreds of different teas in the Black Tea family and each one is the result of a unique process of exposing picked leaves to air, heat and moisture to facilitate fermentation of the leaves. Like Lapsang Souchong, some are exposed to smoking which imparts an additional complexity of flavor to the tea.
As with any organic material, exposure to these elements stimulates a natural enzymatic breakdown of the leaf cell structure. This chemical breakdown creates new elements such as theaflavins and other elements which were not in the original tea leaves. These fermentation processes which were carefully guarded secrets were perfected over centuries and each process gives a tea its unique aroma and flavor.
Red Tea / Black Tea
So popular was Black Tea in Britain that the British Government had to stem the flow of their silver reserves to China. As the Dutch monopolized the tea trade and other countries continued to pay for tea in silver, the English found the lucrative Chinese tea markets closing to them. Up to this time, the British preferred to pay the Chinese for their tea with the opium they cultivated from India. This became the cause of many wars and disputes between the two countries.
The passage of time and the march of history continues the confusion. Today, the vast majority of tea consumed in the West is from India. Indian tea is made from the native Camellia Assamica, a sub-variety or hybrid species which has a higher yield, a stronger flavor and much higher levels of caffeine. Tea favorites like Darjeeling, Earl Gray and Orange Pekoe were developed by early British growers in India while trying to inexpensively reproduce their favorite beverage from China. And the label of “Black Tea” has stuck in the West ever since.
Rest assured, that all of the tea sold at Euphoria Tea comes from China and is a product of the Camellia Sinensis species.