Tea is a beverage consumed by billions of people every day, from South to North and East to West, in India and many other countries. Despite its numerous names, such as British tea, Black tea, Indian tea, or Pu-erh tea, they all come from a single component – leaves. Interestingly, every tea is made from the same plant, known as Camellia Sinensis. However, what distinguishes each type of tea from one another is the process that follows after the leaves are harvested, also known as the flush harvest. So, the question arises – what makes the difference?
The only thing that makes every tea unique to their taste is the process which starts from the fresh harvest or what it’s called – flush harvest and the process after this. The tea leaves come to the factories and this is where the magic happens and we get the different varieties and distinctive tastes.
After plucking, all of the processing happens inside the factory. The hygiene of the factory is a sacred affair; no lapses are entertained. The freshly plucked leaves are evenly spread in troughs and are turned repeatedly for even withering. As soon as the required moisture is lost, the leaves get ready for rolling. There is no machine or a timer that tells if the tea is withered properly. Only experienced senses can gauge if the tea is ready to be rolled. Properly withered tea leaves are then put in the century-old roller which is supervised by a worker.
Rolling is the most significant part of the tea-making process and one should give utmost care to the temperature of the leaves. Tea emanates heat while being rolled and the process should consist of enough intervals to let the leaves cool off. The machine might look big but it rolls the tea leaves as gently as is required. Do you know that tea requires no additional components while processing? The enzymes released by the tea leaves while rolling facilitates oxidation. This fact makes tea a beverage that is pure in every aspect.
The real magic happens in the oxidation table. Nicely rolled tea leaves are spread and left to oxidize. Enzymes emanated by leaves facilitate oxidation and tea acquires its essential characters. As in other stages of tea processing, only the experienced nose can tell when the tea is perfectly oxidized. Soon after, oxidation is arrested by firing the tea while locking in all the required flavours and aromas.
Drying of leaves
As soon as the tea master senses that the rolled leaves are perfectly oxidized, they are spread for drying. Leaves selected for maltier flavours are extra fired. Drying should be just enough to lock in the flavours and it should not make the leaves crisp. Again, only experience can tell when the leaves are dried perfectly. Finally, the immaculately dried leaves are sorted by hand according to their sizes.
The dried leaves are then sorted according to size. After going through the sorting machine, it is sorted carefully by experienced hands and scrupulous eyes, unwanted twigs are separated from whole leaves and broken leaves are categorized differently. The tea is then ready, to be tasted by the master taster, who decides if the flavours and aroma came out as it was supposed to be.
Every batch of tea has to go through scrutiny at the tasting table. Dry leaves, liquor and infusion are observed for their fragrance and appearance. A true tea master takes numerous sips of the tea throughout to gauge the nuance changes. It takes numerous such sips and inhalation to approve the quality and flavour profile of a tea. Likewise, every batch is different and that is what makes tea a beverage that is intimately yours.
India is the one of the largest producers of tea and Assam being one of the largest tea producing states in the country. We can also find the beautiful tea gardens in Coorg, Munnar, rural hills of Northern, Eastern and Southern parts of India. And again the most intriguing thing is that it is believed that tea originated from China and Britishers brought it in India. The truth can be anything but the fact is that tea is the most popular beverage in the world.
This article is contributed by Rajeev Baid – Founder & Managing Director, Chai Chun.