- How to Grow and Brew Your Own Tea at Home
- Tea plants are surprisingly hardy
- A simple guide to Brewing your own Green Tea
- How to Grow & Harvest your own Tea Plant
- How Is Tea Grown? The Story of Tea From Harvest to Cup
- What Is Tea?
- Where is Tea Grown?
- How Is Tea Harvested?
- Tea Production Process
- Enjoy the Tea Experience
- History of Green tea
- Where is Green tea grown today?
- Producers and exporters of Green tea
- Understanding China’s Tea Harvest
- Category of Tea
- Other Factors
- How is Tea harvested?
- An expert’s guide to the tea plant, types of tea, and how tea is made.
- Teas By Region
- How Tea Works
- Grow tea in your garden to make the perfect cuppa
- Love this story? Subscribe now!
- Tea Processing: Drying
- What does “drying” mean in tea processing?
How to Grow and Brew Your Own Tea at Home
In recent years we have seen more and more interest in growing tea and with hundreds of succesful home tea growers up and down the country the humble tea plant is hardier than you might think. Originating in high and quite cold areas of the himalyas, Tea plants have actually been grown in the UK for hundreds of years. Winston Churchill looked at growing tea as part of the Dig for Victory campaign and more recently we are very proud to be suppliers of tea plants to Scotlands first tea plantation. .
Tea plants are surprisingly hardy
Tea Plants thrive in our UK climate
They love rain
and don’t mind even mind snow!
For trade quantities of tea plants for commercial growing or for home growing on a larger scale please contact Emily on 01825 721162
White, green and our traditional builders brew all come from the same plant but it is the way that the leaves are processed that affects the flavour. White tea is the least processed tea and has a very subtle flavour. Fresh leaves steeped in hot water will give a mass of health benefits but may be a bit too subtle for our British Palate. Black tea is what we normally drink in this country, strong or milky, loose or in bags. It’s certainly possible to make at home but it does take a bit more time and care – for more information on this do check out our friend Cassie Liversidge’s book ‘Homegrown Tea’ – its full of top tips and step by step guides on how to process black, green and white tea plus a wide range of herbal teas and tissanes.
Green tea is the compromise, partially processed leaves are full of flavour and rich in anti-oxidants – Probably the best way to make the most of your fresh harvest – making green tea is a simple process anyone can do at home.
A simple guide to Brewing your own Green Tea
Compiled with help from Cassie Liversidge, Author of ‘Homegrown Tea’
First you want to select the leaves for harvest. In the spring and summer you should notice a fresh ‘flush’ of young leaves and these are the perfect ones for tea making and the most prized by tea growers. Pick the two youngest leaves and the bud off each branch to give yourself a small pile of fresh soft leaves to work with.
Pluck the youngest two leaves and a leaf bud
Steam the leaves
Until they are soft, limp and olive green in colour
The next step is to heat the leaves by steaming them. A steamer works best or just in a colander over a pan of boiling water for 1-2 minutes. You want the leaves to start to wilt and to turn an olive green colour but not to cook. As soon as they have changed colour run them under cold water to stop the heating process.
Now you need to roll the leaves. A sushi mat works well for this to get them nice and even, but you can also roll them in the palms of your hands – working them into narrow cigar shapes and as you do so breaking down the leaves and releasing some of the flavour.
The next stages is to dry the leaves in a warm oven. Place your rolled leaves on a baking tray in a preheated oven at 100C for 10-12 minutes and turn them half way through. Be careful not to over do it and allow them to cool down and dry out a bit further and that’s it …ta da – you’ve made Green Tea!
Hand rolling the leaves breaks down the leaf structure
and releases flavour
Use 2 or 3 dried leaves in a teapot for a very special cup of green tea.
The leaves can be used like this fresh or dried over a radiator or in an airing cupboard for another day or two until they are properly dry and crispy ready for storage.
Buy your very own tea plant today and you too can enjoy the fresh taste of home brewed green tea
How to Grow & Harvest your own Tea Plant
Did you know you can grow and harvest your own tea plant at home? Tea is the world’s second most popular drink (after water) and with so many ‘tea totalers’ around, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a fresh supply on hand! Growing tea at home is easier than you might think, and hopefully after you read this post you’ll be convinced to give it a try for yourself.
Surprisingly green, oolong and black tea all come from the same tea plant – a Camellia Sinensis. Its a type of Camellia shrub that can be and often is grown as an ordinary garden variety plant, with some amazing benefits. How can different teas come from the one plant? It all comes down to how the leaves are dried and processed after they’ve been picked. But first, here’s how to care for your new Tea Plant.
Caring For a Tea Plant
The Camellia Sinensis, or Tea Plant is a shrub that won’t grow any bigger than around 6 feet when planted in a container, or can be pruned to keep its size small. Tea plants can sometimes be hard to come by, so try ordering one through your local nursery or even check out the range on Amazon. Once you’ve got a tea plant, the good news is, it’s quite easy to care for. The basic requirements are:
Light: Keep your tea plant in full sun to part shade. Giving it more sun will help it grow to be a hardy plant. Be careful when you first bring your plant home though. Allow time for it to transition to its new conditions without too much harsh sun.
Water & Fertilizing: Tea Plants prefer well drained soil, but don’t let the soil dry out. When the top couple of inches of soil are dry, water until the soil is soaked through. Being a Camellia, tea plants prefer slightly acidic soil. You can use a general acidic fertilizer for camellias and azaleas during Spring and Summer. Try fertilizing every couple of weeks at half-strength.
Location: Tea Plants do best in milder climates such as plant hardiness zones 7-9. However for cooler climates they can be kept in a pot and brought inside during the colder months.
Pruning: Your tea plant can be pruned down to maintain size or remove unwanted branches (read more about pruning in harvesting the leaves for your tea). Pruning is important to tea plants as it promotes new growth – and the new leaves are the ones that we’ll be using for tea!
Harvesting Leaves from Your Tea Plant
Your Tea Plant generally needs to mature to two years before you can harvest the leaves, and within a few more years it will be a great producer of tea leaves! Generally the newer, lighter green leaves and buds are used for making tea.
How you prune (pick) leaves from your tea plant is the same process no matter what sort of tea you’d like to make. The variation in the type of tea comes from the process after your tea leaves are picked.
Prune your tea plant in late winter. During early Spring, when new growth appears, harvest these new leaves. Wait until there are 2-4 new leaves unfurling from new shoots, then pick the top two leaves and bud from the stems with your fingers.
Using this method of picking new leaves, its possible to harvest your tea plant every 1-2 weeks from the new growth! Each time you pick leaves, it encourages the Tea Plant to grow more in their place.
After you’ve picked the fresh leaves, the oxidisation process (or fermentation) of the picked leaves is what will change the flavour and type of tea you make. Oxidisation happens when leaves are left out and is characterised by the reddish-brown colour the leaves will start to get.
How to Make Green Tea
Green tea requires no oxidisation process to make! This gives it the earthy flavour it is so well known for. Once your tea leaves have bene picked, we need to prevent oxidisation from occurring. Steam the leaves on the stove (like you would cook vegetables) for 1-2 minutes. You can also do this by dry cooking them in a stir fry pan. Use the leaves straight away, or dry them out further by placing them on an oven tray. Dry them out for 10-20 minutes in the oven on low (200-250 degrees or 90-120 Celcius), then store in an airtight container.
Brewing Green Tea: Use a teaspoon of leaves in hot water (slightly less than boiling). Steep for 2-3 minutes.
How to Make Oolong Tea
Oolong tea needs to be partially oxidised. Once the leaves have been picked, bruise them by gently scrunching them in your hand, shaking them or pressing them slightly. Allow the leaves to sit for 30 minutes to a few hours, until they just start to turn brown. Dry in a low oven for up to 20 minutes.
Brewing Oolong Tea: Use hot (nearly boiling water) and let the leaves steep for 5-8 minutes.
How to Make Black Tea
Black tea requires more oxidisation than Oolong. Use the same process of pressing or scrunching the leaves, more firmly this time. This allows juices to be released. Let the leaves sit out until they are fully brown – this may take a few hours or overnight. Then dry them in a low oven for 20 or more minutes.
Brewing Black Tea: Use hot (nearly boiling) water and let the leaves steep for 3-5 minutes.
Once you’ve tried the process of making tea at home, you can mix it up and experiment with different drying times and leaf types to try different flavours! Use the Camellia buds, stems and older leaves as well as different methods of preparation to find what you like best. For other great uses of tea, check out my post on the benefits of green tea baths.
How Is Tea Grown? The Story of Tea From Harvest to Cup
Tea is one of the most sought after beverages in the world. It’s consumed across the globe from Asia to California. There are thousands of different types of tea and hundreds of regions that produce the leaves, flowers, and spices that make their way into teacups. The tea growing process is carefully monitored and tailored to produce quality tea with specific flavor profiles.
Tea artisans control the tea process from the moment the tea seeds are sown to the instant the aroma hits your olfactory senses. Each step along the way ensures the best tea possible and is essential to producing different types of tea.
What Is Tea?
There are two main categories of tea: true teas and herbal tisanes. True teas are made using the leaves of the tea plant known as Camellia sinensis. Herbal teas are made from a variety of flowers, spices, and herbs, but don’t contain any leaves of the tea plant. Flavored teas are infusions of herbal tisanes with true tea leaves. In order to understand how tea is grown and produced, it’s easiest to focus on the true teas.
There are four types of true teas including white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and black tea. Some experts include rooibos tea and pu-erh tea as true teas. However, the production and growing methods of these two types are slightly different. Rooibos tea comes from a red tea bush native to South Africa. Pu-erh comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, but is post-oxidized. For simplicity, we’ll focus on the main four types.
All four types of true teas are derived from the same exact leaves. The difference in these teas arises during the production process. Some teas such as black tea are oxidized while others like white tea are simply sun-dried. These minor differences result in big flavor and color differences. Tea, like wine, also varies depending on terroir—the notion that region, soil, climate, and growing conditions affect flavor.
Where is Tea Grown?
Tea plants grow best in cooler climates with rainfall amounts of at least 40 inches per year. These plants prefer acidic soils and can be cultivated at different altitudes. The plants are currently grown at sea level and up to altitudes of 7,000 feet. Plants at higher elevations grow more slowly and develop more complex flavor profiles.
Dozens of countries including Taiwan, Indonesia, and the United States cultivate tea. The main producers of tea are China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. China and India produced more than 60% of the world’s tea in 2016. There are two principal varieties of the tea plant used in tea cultivation: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and C. sinensis var assamica. The former is typical in Chinese and Japanese teas while the latter is more popular in Indian teas.
True teas are often classified by their growing region. India is famous for black tea varieties including Assam and Darjeeling. Production of these teas was ramped up in India during the period of British colonial rule. It was during this period that tea estates popped up along the countryside. India was catapulted into the tea trade and became the main competitor to China in tea production. Sri Lanka is famous for Ceylon tea, which reflects the countries previous title.
Both the Chinese and Japanese are famous for green tea cultivation. In Japan, the Shizuoka prefecture is the most active in tea production. The most famous Chinese tea production regions include the Fujian, Anhui, and Hainan provinces. The difference in terroir and production processes results in distinctive green tea blends. Chinese green teas are roasted and tend to have a smokier flavor while Japanese green teas are steamed and thus more vegetal in flavor.
How Is Tea Harvested?
Tea plants must reach an age of three years before leaves can be harvested for tea use. Tea is harvested mainly by hand because it preserves the quality of the leaves. Machines were used for many years, but tea growers found they were too rough and damaged the delicate tea leaves. Harvests typically occur twice per year. The first harvest is known as the ‘first flush’ and occurs each spring. The second harvest takes place in the summer and is referred to as the ‘second flush’.
The plants are constantly pruned throughout the year by picking just the top two leaves and buds. This keeps the plants in early growth stages, promotes new shoots, and maximizes harvest outcomes.
Tea harvesters work by had to remove the tea leaves and place them in large wicker baskets. Once the baskets are full, they are transported to a tea processing plant on the tea plantation. Tea processing centers are located on site because the leaves begin to undergo oxidation as soon as they are harvested. Different levels of oxidation are the key to different types of true teas.
Tea Production Process
Oxidation is essential in the production of true teas. Oxygen reacts on a cellular level with organic matter and results in changes in appearance and taste. It’s the same process that causes bananas to turn brown or metal to develop rust. In tea production, tea experts closely control the oxidation process to create their desired type of tea.
White tea is the least processed of the true teas. The leaves are harvested and simply sun dried. This preserves the chemical compounds in the leaves and results in a light colored tea. The minimal production process results in a delicate flavor profile.
Step 1: Withering
Tea leaves are withered for 72 hours on large bamboo mats. Depending on the type of white tea, leaves are dried in direct sun or under sun shades.
Step 2: Drying
Tea leaves are dried at temperatures of 110 F to stop the oxidation process from taking place. Some white teas are dried using a steaming process while others are subjected to blasts of hot air.
Green tea is a partially processed tea that is light yellow or green in color. It comes in many popular varieties including sencha green tea and matcha green tea. The flavors of green tea can vary from nutty to grassy depending on the production process. All green teas undergo the following three steps, but steps 2 and 3 can be repeated to elicit certain flavor profiles.
Step 1: Steaming/Roasting
As mentioned, green tea flavors can be altered by using either steam or pan-firing methods. Japanese green teas are subjected to steaming where hot air is applied in a humid environment to prevent oxidation. In Chinese teas, the leaves are roasted in pans over open fires or in large ovens to prevent oxidation.
Step 2: Rolling
Green tea leaves are rolled into shapes including long twigs, small pellets, and cakes or balls. Many green teas such as Formosa Gunpowder are identifiable by their distinctive shape. The tea leaves are not allowed to oxidize after rolling. This preserves the green color of the leaves and earthy flavors.
Step 3: Drying
The leaves are immediately dried and sorted by grade and shape for sale.
Both oolong tea and black tea undergo the same basic production process. The difference arises in the amount of time during which the leaves are allow to oxidize. Oolong tea is only semi-oxidized. That means it is oxidized, but only for a short period of time.
Our Ti Kuan Yin oolong tea is grown in the Fujian province of China. It’s a premium tea grown by artisans with a focus on full body and exquisite flavor.
The tea leaves are withered just like white and green tea leaves.
The wilted leaves are rolled to release more enzymes that encourage oxidation. During this stage, the oolong tea leaves are rolled into distinctive shapes depending on the type of oolong tea.
Step 3: Oxidation
Experts at the tea factories oxidize leaves to predetermined levels. Oolong teas have oxidation levels that range from 8% to 80%. This results in a wide range of colors and flavors. Once the tea leaves reach these oxidation levels, they are subjected to drying.
Step 4: Drying
Roasting or pan-firing the leaves ends the oxidation process. The leaves are then sorted for sale.
Black tea is extremely popular and includes varieties such as Earl Grey and breakfast teas. Black tea is the most oxidized of the true tea varieties. It has a dark brown or maroon black color and offers a bold taste similar to coffee. Black tea is produced through two methods: the orthodox method or the CTC method. The orthodox method is entirely done by hand while the CTC method uses machines. CTC stands for cut-tear-curl, which describes the mechanical process used to process the leaves. Both methods use the same steps when producing black tea.
Freshly harvested leaves are withered in direct sunlight. The leaves are typically spread out on large bamboo mats and left in the sun until the leaves become limp.
Once the leaves are pliable, they are rolled to release moisture and enzymes that will react with oxygen in the next step. Leaves produced with the orthodox method maintain their complete shape while the CTC method produces tea dust and fannings. The orthodox method involves rolling the leaves on sharp bamboo mats or hard surfaces. The CTC method rolls the leaves in giant metal drums with sharp teeth. The CTC method is often preferred for tea destined for use in tea bags.
Step 3: Oxidization
This is the key step in the process that differentiates a black tea from white, green or oolong. The tea leaves are spread across bamboo mats in a cool, humid environment. They are left to oxidize until the leaves turn deep brown in color.
The oxidized leaves are dried using a variety of methods. Some leaves are steamed while others
Enjoy the Tea Experience
The tea experience doesn’t start when you begin drinking tea. It begins with centuries-old traditions and methods that fine-tune the flavor profiles and appearance of each leaf. The experience is about appreciating how the tea leaves are grown, harvested, and produced in pain-staking processes. Tea isn’t just unique based on the plant used to make it. Minor adjustments to the production process can take the same leaves and create exquisite and contrasting flavor profiles. The next time you brew tea, take a second to relish how much time and effort went into your steaming mug.
Really rather clever Green tea is increasing in popularity and fast becoming recognised as the natural choice to aid and treat a whole range of ailments and health concerns; and used to support general vitality and well-being.
The Green tea leaves contain a lot of goodness in the form of nutrients, including B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Theanine, Quercetin and Catechins.
History of Green tea
Green tea comes from the perennial plant, Camellia sinensis, which is endemic to East Asia, South East Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. Green tea was first cultivated in China almost five centuries ago and has been a staple part of the Chinese diet ever since. Noted as being the world’s first tea grower, Wu Lizhen of the West Han Dynasty (53 BC) is said to have ‘planted seven fairy tea plants which neither grew nor died on Mengshan Mountain’. The ‘magical’ tea from these plants was reputed to transform whoever consumed it into a higher spiritual being, blessed with a higher state of consciousness. Green tea was initially used in Chinese herbal medicine to treat many different conditions and exalted for its overall health positives. It was common to discover Camellia sinensis growing close to the Buddhist temples as the monks used Green tea as part of their practice. Japan and Korea cottoned on to the well-being properties of Green tea and towards the end of the 10th century the cultivation and use of Green tea was firmly established in these countries too, producing a distinctive Green Tea unique to the respective growing areas.
Where is Green tea grown today?
Today Camellia sinensis is grown on tea plantations in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world; excelling in sunny weather and hot temperatures. Although this type of climate provides the ideal conditions for this plant to thrive, you may be surprised just how far-flung, or should I say close to home tea is grown. You could stumble across a tea plantation or two in the unlikely location of South Cornwall, for instance, where Camellia sinensis is grown and Green tea is produced by the Tregothnan Estate.
Producers and exporters of Green tea
Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia and India are all prolific producers, users and exporters of Green tea. The original, however, and still the best, in the eyes of many; China remains the major producer of Green tea, exporting over 80% of the Green tea that’s consumed worldwide. China is forecast to produce 1352 thousand metric tonnes of Green tea in 2017 of which 379.7 thousand metric tonnes will be exported worldwide. And although major growers of Green tea, Japan exports very little, most being consumed at home.
Traditional harvesting practices in China haven’t changed a great deal over the centuries and in many regions the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant are still picked carefully by hand, with harvesting still synchronised with the patterns of the seasons and weather. There are now places that employ the use of machines to pick the tea leaves, particularly on some large plantations where productivity is high. However, on plantations such as those in Longjing, for example, traditional practices continue, unchanged by the passing of time.
Centuries of handed down knowledge and experience ensures the tea leaves are picked at exactly the right time and the ‘right time’ will vary. Harvesting times are dependent on location and affected by weather conditions. A snap of cold weather can set back harvesting and unusually high temperatures can accelerate growth of the leaves and bring the whole process of plucking and processing forward. Camellia sinensis usually begins to produce shoots three to four years after being planted and can be gently harvested at this stage. Once established healthy plants can grow new leaves at an astonishing rate, when managed well, and individual plants can live for many decades boasting an impressive annual harvest. There are tell-tale signs that show the leaves are ready for plucking which give the tea pickers the Green tea light for ‘Go’. ‘The perfect leaves will be light green, still a little curled over and soft, almost downy to touch.’ There’s a particular technique to picking the leaves and buds to avoid causing damage to the plant. It’s the top two leaves and the bud which are generally plucked; in a swift, regular and rhythmic motion, using both hands to increase productivity. Traditionally (and still to this day in many countries, such as Sri Lanka and provinces of China) picking tea leaves was a predominantly female occupation, while the men folk were often farmers or worked on the processing and production of the tea..
In China, the growing season lasts for a long 8 months of the year and the leaves and buds are harvested at specific times. There are generally three harvesting periods over the course of a year. The spring shoots grow from March to May. This is the period when the plant is most productive and during this period spring harvest takes place where the first, fresh buds and baby leaves of the tea plant are picked. Packed with all of the Green tea vitality, these fresh tips and young, tender leaves are potent with all the beneficial nutrients this plant provides. The specific week for harvesting will vary from region to region but some Green teas are plucked as early as late March if optimal growing conditions and seasonal weather has been good. Tradition also plays a part in when the spring tea leaves are harvested, and if the weather permits the spring harvest will co-incide with the Quingming Festival which occurs on 4 or 5 April each year. Generally speaking the peak period for picking these first buds and leaves tends to be April. From late May/early June to the start of July the second growing stage takes place followed by harvesting. The leaves that are plucked during this harvesting period are much larger than the spring tips. Throughout the growing season the plants are regularly pruned to produce continuous shoots. The growing and harvesting season comes to an end with the final flux of growth occurring from mid July to October. At what stage the leaves are harvested, influences the taste, aroma, astringency and nutritional potency of the Green tea produced.
Understanding China’s Tea Harvest
In China, the tea plant can be harvested anywhere from once to as many as 6 or 7 times per year. In addition, the first harvest – the first flush in Indian nomenclature – can occur anytime from mid-February to the end of May. Let us look at some of the factors that determine when tea leaves are harvested.
Where the plant is grown will have a big impact on when it can be harvested. This is dependent on a combination of these factors:
You don’t need to be a botanist to know that plants need sunlight to grow. The amount of sunlight has a positive correlation to when the leaves may be harvested. Hence, in high elevations with mist and the presence of natural forests, the plants tend to bloom later.
One of the major factors which affect the different harvest times across regions in China is the heat. Typically, the plant goes into hibernation at temperatures of 10°C (50ºF) and below. So, apart from the southernmost regions of China, teas are not harvested during Winter.
Then rainfall comes into play. To facilitate the growth of the plant, rainfall amounts in excess of 100 mm (~ 4″) per month are required with an annual rainfall of 1,500 mm (~ 59″) being ideal for the plant.
Thus, putting all these factors together, it is useful to view China in terms of its major tea growing regions.
Presently the convention is to split China into the following 4 tea growing regions:
- Jiangnan (South of the Yangtze river)
- Jiangbei (North of the Yangtze river)
- Huanan (South China)
- Xinan (South West China)
Jiangnan is the biggest tea producing region in China with more than half of China’s tea being grown in this region which spans Zhejiang, Jiangxi, part of Anhui and Hunan. Because of its size, Jiangnan is often used as a ‘benchmark’ for season markers- something that we will get to later.
Jiangbei, in contrast, is the smallest tea producing region in China with Henan, Shandong and northern Anhui being the major provinces. As it represents the northernmost regions in China, it is also the latest and harvest times can commence sometime in late April, even for tender green leaves.
Huanan spans Guangdong, Fujian, Taiwan, Guangxi and Hainan. Xinan encompasses Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou. Both have typically tropical to sub-tropical climates provide an environment for the trees to grow for at least 10 months out of the entire year. Its temperate seasonal changes result in the earliest harvest seasons – e.g. mid-February for Yunnan – of the entire country.
The cultivar or sub-breed of the Camellia Sinensis plant also plays a part in when the tea can be harvested.
Briefly, cultivars can be classified into 3 categories:
- Early bloomers: Cultivars that reach 1 bud to 3 leaf ratio in Spring with an accumulate active temperature below 400°C
- Mid-bloomers: Cultivars that reach 1 bud to 3 leaf ration in Spring with an accumulated active temperature between 400°C to 500°C
- Late-bloomers: Cultivars that reach 1 bud to 3 leaf ratio in Spring with an accumulated active temperature above 500°C
To put it into perspective, take the example of Tieguanyin and Huang Jin Gui which are grown from the Tieguanyin, aka Weizhong, cultivar and Huang Jin Gui, aka Huangdan, cultivar. Though both are grown in Anxi, southern Fujian, the Huang Jin Gui is an early bloomer and can be harvested from early April while Tieguanyin is typically harvested from the end April to May.
Category of Tea
The category and indeed variety of tea also affects when it is harvested. In general, the earlier the harvest for green tea, the more tender it is and hence by the same token, the higher its value. This is why the convention is to use Pre-Qing Ming (teas harvested on or prior to 5th April) and Pre-Harvest Rain (teas harvested on or prior to 20th April) to denote higher quality teas. However, these dates are reflective of Jiangnan tea harvest. Pre-Qing Ming, you would be hard-pressed to find any Jiangbei trees ready for harvest while Huanan and Xinan teas would be pretty matured by then. For further information on this subject you can check out our Tea Harvest Dates.
Typically oolong teas are harvested at 1 bud to 3-4 leaves ratios while black teas are harvested at 1 bud to 2 leaves ratios. Naturally, this is a generalization as there are black teas made from 1 bud to 1 leaf ratios for example. Hence, when the tea is harvested also depends on the bud to leaf ratio desired.
Apart from the above main factors, man-made factors such as fertilization and artificial provision of heat and other natural nutrients could speed up the harvest of the tea.
Information was sourced from the following publications:
- Ming You Cha Ye- Shen Chan Yu Jia Gong Ji Shu by Luo Yao Ping published in Jan 2006 by Zhong Guo Nong Ye Chu Ban Se
- Cha Xue Gai Lun by Zhou Ju Gen and Zhu Yong Xin published in Aug 2007 by Zhong Guo Zhong Yi Yao Chu Ban Se
- Zhong Guo Cha Jing 2011 Revision by Chen Zong Mao and Yang Ya Jun published in Oct 2011 by Shanghai Wen Hua Chu Ban Se
Photo Credit: tjabeljan
How is Tea harvested?
Tea is one of the most sought after beverages in the world and it is consumed from Asia to America. There are many varieties of tea and so many tea producing regions across the world.
Tea, scientifically known as Camellia Sinesis, can be grown in tropical or subtropical areas. Tea plants prefer an acidic soil. The plant can be grown at any altitude. Currently, tea is cultivated from sea level and up to altitudes of 7000 feet. Best teas are grown in cooler climates and those that are grown at higher elevations are considered of top quality, they grow more slowly and comes with complex flavours.
When a tea plant reaches the age of three, it is generally considered that the plant is mature enough and harvesting would begin and continue for many years. It is only when a plant begins to flush, the picking is started, in the right time while assuring that the leaves are large enough yet not very old. Always the two leaves and the buds are been picked to make the best black teas and green teas. The bud alone, known as the ,silver tip, is picked to make very special teas like White Tea- one of those rarest teas in the world.
Tea is handpicked mainly because it preserves the quality and freshness of it. Today, most countries use machines to harvest tea which is actually reducing the quality of tea. And this is why Ceylon Tea is considered best because Sri Lanka is one of those countries that continues to handpick tea and produce it in the true artisanal way, respecting the old age practices.
Tea plants are being pruned often throughout the year. Pruning helps to keep the plant younger, produce new shoots and increase harvest. Tea pluckers pick the tea leaves, put them in a large wicker basket and once the basket is full, they are being taken into the tea processing plant which is located on the tea plantation itself. Tea processing plants are built in the tea plantation itself because leaves must go through oxidization and oxidization is essential in producing real tea. Oxidization helps in creating different flavours and aromas in tea. When making tea, tea experts take close control of the oxidization process to create the tea that they desire to have.
Tea experience doesn’t begin the moment you start drinking the tea. It encapsulates old age traditions and methods that help to fine-tune its flavour, freshness and the aroma. The true experience in tea is respecting the true ways of growing the leaves, harvesting and producing. A slight change that one does to the production process can either make tea something exquisite or horrible. Next time you drink tea, take some time to know if your tea has been made in the true artisanal way because it really matters.
An expert’s guide to the tea plant, types of tea, and how tea is made.
The Tea Plant
The tea plant’s scientific name is Camellia sinensis. All teas originate from one of two important subspecies, either the Assam type (Camelia sinensis assamica) or China type (Camelia sinensis sinensis). Grown in India, Sri Lanka, and in other parts of the world, the Assam type tea produces large, strong tasting leaves. The China tea type, cultivated in China, Taiwan, Japan, and parts of Darjeeling, yields a more delicate tea with smaller leaves.
Climate and geographic location, including altitude and soil, all play a role in determining the quality of tea leaves. The plant flourishes in tropical and subtropical climates with abundant rainfall, rich soil, and prefers altitudes between 2000 and 6500 feet. The finest quality tea plants typically grow at higher elevations where the cool climate slows growth, allowing more concentrated flavors to develop in the tea leaves. However, many good teas also grow at low elevations near sea level. The tea industry uses generations of vegetative propagation and leaf cuttings from the best plants to clone productive bushes that yield superior tasting tea.
Cultivated tea plants or bushes are usually kept to around three to five feet tall. However, if left uncultivated, the tea plant can exceed heights of 30 feet! The 3-5 foot height range allows for convenient plucking of tender tea leaves. Pruning also stimulates the growth of new young leaves, which are considered more desirable when producing great tasting tea. If properly cultivated, tea bushes can have a productive life span exceeding 100 years.
Harvesting Tea Leaves
To ensure the highest quality teas, the newest “two leaves and a bud” of tea plants are plucked by hand. This repeated picking of the young tea leaves and buds promotes new growth throughout the year. Depending upon the origin, bushes are plucked anywhere from three to twelve times a year. Plucking is often referred to as a “flush.“
It takes around two to three thousand tea leaves to produce one pound of finished tea product.
All tea is graded consistently according to leaf size. Most people are familiar with the term “Orange Pekoe” and assume this refers to a kind of tea. But, in fact, this term is used by the tea industry to denote a particular size of black tea leaf. One purpose of grading and sorting is to ensure the uniformity of the leaf size; the other is to prevent smaller particles from detracting flavor away from tea brewed with large leaves.
Drinking whole leaf tea allows one to experience a wider range of complex and nuanced flavor profiles. This does not imply that smaller, broken leaf tea is of poorer quality, just that a tea’s taste and body will vary depending upon leaf size. So, grading is not related to quality – the climate, location and the type of processing all contribute to determining a tea’s quality. However, the shape and size of the leaf does play a role in influencing the essence of a cup. For example, breakfast tea’s like English Breakfast are commonly made with smaller broken leaves to ensure that a pungent and robust bodied cup of morning tea results.
To grade tea, tea growers employ mechanical sorters that use sieves to separate out leaves into whole leaf, broken leaf and fanning grades.
Green and oolong tea leaves are generally not graded like most black teas.
Whole Leaf Whole leaf teas boast a range of complex and subtle flavors. Below are grades for black tea leaves.
|F.O.P.||Flowery Orange Pekoe – Refers to high quality whole leaf tea made from the first two leaves and bud of the shoot. India produces large amounts of this grade.|
|G.F.O.P.||Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – The golden refers to the colorful tips at the end of the top bud.|
|T.G.F.O.P.||Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – FOP with larger amount of tips|
|F.T.G.F.O.P.||Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – An even higher quality with more tips than FOP|
|O.P.||Orange Pekoe: Refers to a high quality thin, wiry leaf rolled more tightly than F.O.P. Picked later in the year than F.O.P.|
|S.||Souchong – A twisted leaf picked from the bottom of the tea bush. China produces this grade used in their smokey teas.|
Broken Leaf teas produce a darker cup and infuse faster than whole leaf teas.
|P.||Pekoe – A wiry, large broken leaf usually without golden tips. Sri Lanka produces large amounts of Pekoe.|
|B.O.P.||Broken Orange Pekoe – A small, flat broken leaf with medium body.|
Fanning & Dust
Leaf particles too small to be classified as broken leaf falls into two categories, fanning and dust. Many grades exist for each.
|F.||Fannings – Crushed leaf particles smaller than B.O.P. Infuses liquor quickly|
|D.||Dust – Smallest grade used for mass-marketed tea bags.|
Teas By Region
Flavors of the World
China is the oldest exporter of tea and monopolized the international tea market until Western powers started competing for trade in the 16th century. Today, China is one of the top tea producing countries in the world, with eight major tea growing areas: Guangdon, Hunan, Sichuan, Guangxi, Zhejiang, Fujian, Anhui and Yunnan.
Ideal growing conditions exist throughout the tea producing regions including abundant rainfall, humidity and high, misty mountain elevations. Black, green, oolong and white teas are cultivated in China. The diversity of style and flavor profiles represented in the country compare to no other. A variety of China black, green, oolong and white teas appear in our Mighty Leaf tea selections.
Japan, a country with an ancient tea tradition, only produces green tea, much of which is consumed internally. Japanese green tea boasts a distinctive fresh green character and appearance.
Green tea is processed differently than the Chinese green teas — after plucked, it is steamed to neutralize oxidation versus pan-fired.
As the largest grower and consumer of tea in the world, India boasts three well-known tea growing regions: Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri. Around 99% of Indian tea produced is black. Darjeeling teas grown in the high altitude Himalayan foothills are often referred to as the “champagne of teas” due to their extraordinary flavor and quality. In India, these teas are picked during specific seasons or “flushes”—tea connoisseurs anxiously await the first flush each year in spring followed later by a second flush in summer. Assam, located in northeastern India, cultivates hearty, robust teas that stand up to milk and sugar. In the south, Nilgiri grows tea not widely known in the West. They are often used in blends and iced-tea.
Sri Lanka (Teas sold as “Ceylon”)
Ceylon Teas come from the island of Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, just south of the Indian subcontinent. Sri Lanka produced coffee until the 1860s when a coffee fungus hit, effectively destroying the island’s coffee industry. To diversify, plantations, owned and managed by the British, started growing tea. Most Ceylon Teas are grown in the mountain regions of the island at elevations between 3,000 and 8,000 feet on the southeastern part of the island – teas grown from the high-test elevations are known as the champagne of Ceylon teas.
The finest Ceylon teas are harvested in the late summer in the eastern parts of the island, and in late spring in the western regions. Renowned as some of the worlds finest black teas, Ceylon teas from Sri Lanka are part of a family of other teas grown in India including Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri.
Afrikaans for “red bush,” Rooibos is a naturally caffeine-free plant drunk like tea indigenous to South Africa. It grows in a symbiotic relationship with local micro-organisms and attempts to grow it outside this area have failed. A popular beverage in South Africa for generations, but has spread around the world since the 1930s.
How Tea Works
There are four main types of tea: green tea, black tea, oolong tea (pronounced wu-long) and white tea. There are even more varieties, including flavored, scented and “herbal infusions,” but for the sake of simplicity we’ll focus on the big four right now. What many people don’t know is that these four types of tea come from one plant, not four different species of plant.
All tea begins as the plant known as Camellia sinensis. It’s the way the tea leaves are processed that gives us the different teas and their specific taste, color and scent.
Tea is similar to wine in that the atmosphere in which it’s grown determines much of the flavor and quality. Tea plants typically fare best in acidic soil and regions with heavy rainfall (around 40 inches per year), although they can be grown anywhere from sea level to altitudes as high as 1.3 miles above sea level.
Mass-produced tea is grown on large plantations in more than 30 countries, but the four biggest producers are China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka. Most tea is picked by hand for better quality — machines tend to be too rough and end up damaging too many leaves. There are generally two harvests throughout the year — “first flush” in early spring and “second flush” in summer. Growers keep the tea plant in the early stage of growth with constant pruning and pick only two leaves and a bud from the tops of the plants.
© Photographer: Bayu Harsa
Once workers gather enough quantities of tea leaves, their stash is quickly carried over to a tea factory located right on the plantation. The factory is placed close to source of the leaves because once the tea is plucked, oxidation immediately begins. The oxidation process is important in understanding tea — it must be closely monitored during production and is essential in determining the type and quality of the tea. Before we go any further we’ll talk about oxidation.
Oxidation is what happens when you cut up a piece of fruit and leave it out for too long — the color of the fruit changes, usually turning brown or black. Oxidation is also a fancier name for what happens when your car rusts. Oxygen molecules react with any kind of substance, from the metal on a bicycle to the inside of an apple. Normally, the skin of an apple protects the inside from oxygen, but when the fruit is exposed to the air, oxygen molecules actually “burn” it. Oxidation isn’t great for fruit or the hood of your car, but, depending on the type of tea you want, it can be a necessary part of processing tea leaves.
We all know that having a sip of green tea every day keeps us healthy. Green tea bags are very expensive when bought in stores. It gave me the idea of growing my tea plant so that I can make green tea whenever I need with little expense.
Green tea is the healthiest beverage on the planet. It is loaded with antioxidants and nutrients. Drinking green tea results in improved brain function, fat loss, a lower risk of cancer and many other incredible benefits.
Green tea is made from Camellia Sinensis plant leaves which are also used for making ordinary tea and black tea. For making green tea the leaves are directly used but for other teas, the leaves are processed by oxidation and withering.
How to grow Tea plant
Camellia Sinensis has two subspecies which are Camellia Sinensis Sinensis (bought from China) and Camellia Sinensis Assamica (grows is Assam, India). The first one has smaller leaves and grows in cold places, and the Assamica variety is a taller plant and thrives in moist, low elevation, tropical locations.
You can grow your tea plant from seeds or a cutting taken from an existing plant. You may also buy it at a local nursery. If you are growing from seed, germination will take about four weeks. Cover the seeds lightly with soil and keep it damp and warm.
The Tea plant will grow in a sunny to partly shaded locations. If you want to increase the height, you should move it to a sheltered location to protect the roots from freezing during winter. You can prune it, or you can let it grow naturally into a large shrub.
Soil should be slightly acidic. If you are growing your plant in a pot, fertilise it a couple of times in the summer. The small white flowers that appear in winter can be dried and added to the leaves to enhance the flavour of the tea.
If planting more than one tea plant, put the plants at least three feet apart. Prune them back about every four years to keep the plants productive and to keep them from getting too big and too tall.
How to make tea from tea plant
For making green tea, harvest the top two leaves and leaf bud on the new spring growth. Heat the leaves immediately before they have a chance to oxidise. To heat the leaves, steam them for 1 to 2 minutes and then immediately run cold tap water over them to stop the heating process and to retain the green colour.
Now roll the leaves, which will be soft and flexible, with your hands. Immediately after all the leaves are rolled, spread them on a plate and place them in an oven preheated to 230 degrees F for 10 minutes, turn them after five minutes to ensure even drying.
The heating process is finished when the leaves are entirely dry and crispy. You can store the dried leaves in an airtight container. To brew the tea, put six leaves in a cup of hot water and cover it with a lid and let the tea steep for three minutes. Now strain the leaves and enjoy your tea.
If you have grown a tea plant once in your garden, you can enjoy your green tea for the next 50 years.
So readers, start building your tea plant to reduce the expense of buying green tea and to enjoy its wonderful benefits.
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Grow tea in your garden to make the perfect cuppa
The perfect cup of tea can be grown in your own garden. Photo: Dreamstime
New Zealand has a good climate for growing tea. Here’s our guide to making the perfect cuppa from garden to table.
Words: Nadene Hall
Adult height: From 1.2m – 1.8m
Description: Evergreen shrub, native to South East Asia, bears white fragrant flowers
The plant that gives us one of the world’s best-loved beverages is a camellia, a small ever-green shrub that doesn’t look all that important. Yet the tea industry is worth billions of dollars worldwide and almost everybody loves a good cuppa after a long day.
The tea camellia doesn’t mind full sun or shade and is pretty adaptable to almost all well-drained soil types, except those that are water-logged. It makes a good filler for shady areas or as a low border plant if kept in trim.
While it doesn’t mind it getting hot, it doesn’t like drying out completely so water well while the plant is actively growing.
You can propogate Camellia sinensis by cutting or seed. Rooting is a slow process with these plants, so treat the cutting with hormone to give it some help. Seeds need to be soaked in warm water for 24 hours before sowing.
The camellia sinensis plant. Photo: Wikicommons/ Sebastianjude
GROW YOUR OWN TEA
With our beautiful climate you would think New Zealand could have its own tea industry but a couple of important factors mean growers here would probably never be able to compete with the world’s big tea-producing countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Malaysia.
Currently there is no method of mechanical picking and most foreign tea producers are subsidised by their Governments and can take advantage of cheap labour. Those who have looked into it here have also found it difficult to bring new plant cultivars into the country for commercial purposes.
If you want to have a go with your own plants the taste you’ll end up with will depend on your particular region’s climate, soil type and elevation.
Tender young growth should be picked, with 2-3 leaves recommended. Allow any surface water to dry in the shade for a few hours. You will then need to bruise the leaves to start the fermentation process – this is what gives you the flavour. Roll shoots between your hands until the leaves are dark and crinkled but not broken.
You then ferment the leaves by placing in thin layers on a tray in a shady place – this will take 2-3 days.
Heat the oven to 120°C and bake for 20 minutes. This stops the fermentation process and you have created your tea – store it in an airtight container.
Have you been making tea the correct way? Photo: Dreamstime
MAKE THE PERFECT CUPPA
Drinking a good cup of tea is a favourite pastime for many New Zealanders but there will always be a dispute over how to make the perfect cup of tea. Do you put milk in first or after you’ve poured your tea? Do you heat the pot before making the tea?
1. Experts tell us to bring out the best flavour in a cup of tea you should start with cold water in the kettle. It retains more oxygen so you get a fuller flavour.
2. The teapot should be pre-heated by filling with hot water from the tap, letting it warm up, then draining it completely.
3. Measure 1tsp of loose tea leaves for every cup you plan to pour. For people who like milk in their tea it is recommended to add an extra teaspoon “for the pot”.
4. For black tea the water should be bought to a full boil then removed as soon as it does. If you boil all the oxygen out of the water, the flavour will be flattened. For green teas, the water should be just starting to bubble – you want the water to be around the 75°C. If you’re not sure, boil the water then add 1 part cold water to 4 parts boiling water to bring it to the right temperature.
5. To get all the flavour you can from your tea leaves, pour a small amount of hot water over the leaves. This releases some of the bitter tannins. Drain immediately.
6. Fill the pot with water and leave a black tea to brew for 4-5 minutes, a green tea needs around 3 minutes. Overbrewed tea will taste bitter. If you are using tea bags you only need to leave the tea for 30 seconds or so, as the leaves are cut smaller and so impart their flavour much more quickly.
7. Quality tea leaves can be used up to five times before losing their flavour.
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Tea Processing: Drying
What does “drying” mean in tea processing?
An important step of tea processing, and something that all teas must go through to be considered shelf-stable is drying. Drying both makes the tea leaves shelf stable and enhances their flavor. At times, these can be two distinct steps in processing; at other times, it can be seen as more of a continuum. Sometimes teas are only dried for shelf-stability. For our discussion here, I’ll explain each separately.
Photo Credit: Michael Petersen, Tealet
Most Common Drying Methods
- Commercial dryers: perforated conveyors move the tea leaves through a heat source in an endless chain. Leaves can also be moved through fluidized bed dryers and dried on a bed of hot air (see an endless chain dryer in the photo above).
- Oven drying: tea leaves are set on perforated trays in an oven and hot air is circulated through the tea via convection.
- Sun drying: tea leaves are spread outdoors (usually on shallow bamboo baskets) to dry in the sun.
Less Common Drying Methods
- Charcoal firing: tea leaves set in a shallow bamboo basket are heated slowly over hot coals.
- Drying on heated floor: where tea leaves are dried on a thick masonry floor heated from below.
Drying for Shelf Stability
Drying for stability means reducing the moisture level in the tea leaves to 2–3%. Doing so makes the leaves shelf-stable and slows the oxidative processes within the leaves to nearly a full stop. Tea makers control the temperature of the air, the volume of air moving past the tea, and the amount of time that drying occurs to produce a palatable tea. Drying the tea too slowly results in stewing, and drying it too quickly results in the outside of the leaves drying much quicker than the inside, a condition known in tea production as case hardening. According to India’s Tocklai Tea Research Institute, “an average loss of more than 4% moisture per minute leads to bitterness and harshness in made tea. Moisture loss at 2.8–3.6% per minute has been found to produce teas with good quality.”
Drying for Flavor Enhancement
Drying for flavor enhancement refers to two optional processing methods known as finish-firing and roasting. Both involve heat, and both can be seen as distinct processing steps or part of drying for shelf-stability. Not all teas are finish-fired or roasted; typically these processes are reserved for higher-end teas and are skipped in commercial tea production. This type of drying alters the taste via the pyrolysis of the amino acids and sugars in the tea leaves.
Finish-firing refers to a very low temperature heating of tea leaves for several hours, typically in an oven or in shallow bamboo baskets over hot coals. After the leaves cool, they are immediately packed and shipped. This enhances the flavor and aroma of the leaves but doesn’t necessarily change it.
Roasting, on the other hand refers to a method of heating that is meant to change the flavor and aroma of the tea, typically adding toasty, burnt notes and resulting in a darker tea and a darker infusion depending upon how long the tea is roasted and at what temperature. Roasting also occurs in an oven or in shallow bamboo baskets over hot coals.
Featured image credit: Michael Petersen of Tealet.