For many people around the world, tea is not just another beverage; it is happiness in a cup. There are several different variants of tea to choose from – black tea, white tea, green tea, herbal tea and so on. But where do these tea leaves that we all love so much come from? It is grown in many parts of world; however, China is the largest producer of tea, followed closely by India.
In India and the world, the largest tea growing area is in Assam, which produces around 630 – 700 million kg annually. The tea produced in this area is known for its strong malty flavour and bright colour. For this reason, this blend is quite popular all over the world as breakfast teas.
Process of Tea Plucking in Assam
Assam tea is harvested twice a year. They are known as the first flush and second flush. The first flush is from late March to late may, whereas the second one happens in June. The Tea leaves picked during the second flush is of better quality than the first.
Tea plucking in Assam follows traditional methods to preserve the quality of tea. The steps are as follows –
- Withering –
This is the first step in processing of tea. The freshly harvested green leaves are set to wilt, they become flaccid and start losing their water content. The withering process is controlled strictly by manufacturers to prepare the leaves for next stages. Manufacturers regulate temperature, humidity, and airflow to speed up the process and ensures that all leaves wither equally. The leaves are laid in thin layers either indoors or outdoors on trays or coarse fabrics for around 18 – 20 hours. Besides, losing water, other component in tea leaves such as caffeine starts intensifying during withering process. Once all the leaves have successfully lost the desired water percentage, the withering process is considered complete.
- Oxidation –
The loss of water from leaves also initiated oxidisation. It is the process where cells of tea leaves break down and undergo a chemical reaction on being exposed to oxygen. Oxidisation helps in intensifying flavours of tea. The level of oxidisation varies depending on type of tea. Green tea is oxidised less compared to black tea, and white tea undergo very nominal oxidisation.
- Fixing –
Hot air or steam is applied to leaves to fix or stop the ‘browning’ of leaves during oxidisation process. Besides steam, leaves are also browned through pan fire, baking, using heated tumblers. For instance, green tea is fixed or semi-oxidised only to retain essential components such as catechins.
- Rolling –
Once the leaves are adequately withered and oxidised, they are rolled to different kinds of shapes such as wiry, pellets, twisty, spirals and broken leaf. Rolling machines are used to complete this process. However, some high-quality tea leaves are rolled delicately by hand. During this process, leaves undergo fermentation.
- Drying –
The last step in tea processing step is drying of tea leaves. It is done to absorb any moisture present in the leaves. It helps in preserving the tea’s flavours and aroma and increases its shelf life.