The Step-by-Step Orthodox Tea Manufacturing Process

Orthodox tea is a term used to describe traditional tea-making processes that involve hand or semi-hand processing techniques. This method is used to produce high-quality tea with a unique and complex flavor profile. Unlike CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) tea, which is often used in tea bags and known for its brisk and robust flavor, orthodox tea maintains the integrity of the tea leaves, leading to a more refined and nuanced taste. Orthodox tea can be classified into several types, including black, green, white, and oolong, each with its distinct characteristics and flavors.

The Manufacturing Process of Orthodox Tea

The manufacturing process of orthodox tea is a meticulous and labor-intensive procedure that involves several stages. The key steps are plucking, withering, rolling, oxidation, drying, and sorting. Each step plays a crucial role in developing the tea’s final flavor, aroma, and appearance.

1. Plucking

  • The journey of orthodox tea begins in the verdant tea gardens, where the meticulous process of plucking tea leaves sets the stage for the quality and flavor of the final product.
  • Plucking is a laborious and skillful task that requires precision and expertise to ensure that only the finest leaves are harvested.
  • Unlike mechanized harvesting used in some tea production methods, orthodox tea relies on hand plucking. This traditional approach allows for selective harvesting, ensuring that only the most tender and desirable parts of the tea plant are collected.
  • Specifically, the pluckers focus on picking the top two leaves and the bud, known as the “fine pluck.” These young shoots contain the highest concentration of essential oils, polyphenols, and other compounds that contribute to the tea’s flavor, aroma, and health benefits.

2. Withering

  • After plucking, the tea leaves are spread out on large trays or racks in a cool, shaded area to wither.
  • Withering reduces the moisture content of the leaves, making them pliable and ready for the next step. This process can take anywhere from 12 to 17 hours, depending on the ambient temperature and humidity.
  • During withering, the leaves undergo a physical and chemical transformation. Withering initiates the breakdown of complex proteins into simpler amino acids, which are crucial for developing the tea’s flavor and aroma.
  • Properly withered leaves contribute to a balanced and complex taste profile in the final tea product, highlighting the importance of this meticulous and carefully monitored stage in the orthodox tea manufacturing process.

3. Rolling

  • Once the leaves have withered to the desired level, they are rolled.
  • The rolling process in orthodox tea manufacturing is crucial for shaping the tea leaves and initiating oxidation.
  • The pliable tea leaves are rolled using traditional or mechanical rollers. This step twists and breaks the leaves, allowing the cell sap to interact with the air. This interaction is essential for the oxidation process, which significantly influences the flavor and color of the tea.
  • Rolling also imparts the characteristic appearance to the tea leaves, whether they are twisted, curled, or rolled into small pellets. The pressure and duration of rolling must be carefully controlled to avoid crushing the leaves excessively, which can lead to the loss of essential oils and flavor compounds.

4. Oxidation

  • Oxidation, also known as fermentation, is a crucial step in the orthodox tea manufacturing process that significantly influences the tea’s flavor, color, and aroma.
  • During oxidation, the rolled tea leaves are spread out in a cool, humid environment, allowing the enzymes in the leaves to react with oxygen.
  • This process leads to chemical changes in the tea leaves, including the breakdown of chlorophyll and the release of tannins and other flavor compounds. The extent of oxidation determines the type of tea produced.

5. Drying

  • The drying process of orthodox tea is a critical step that halts oxidation and reduces the moisture content of the tea leaves, ensuring their longevity and preserving their flavor.
  • After the desired level of oxidation is achieved, the tea leaves are subjected to drying, which can be done using various methods such as sun drying, baking, or hot air dryers.
  • In commercial settings, hot air dryers are commonly used. The leaves are spread out on trays and passed through a drying chamber where hot air circulates, gradually removing moisture.
  • The temperature and duration of drying are carefully controlled to avoid scorching the leaves while ensuring thorough drying.
  • Proper drying locks in the flavors and aromas developed during oxidation, resulting in a tea that is stable for storage and transport. The final moisture content of the dried leaves is typically reduced to about 2-3%, which is optimal for maintaining the tea’s quality and shelf life.

6. Sorting and Grading

  • The sorting and grading process is the final step in the orthodox tea manufacturing journey, crucial for ensuring the quality and consistency of the product.
  • After drying, the tea leaves are sorted to remove any stems, fibers, or broken leaves. This is typically done using mechanical sifters and sieves of various sizes to separate the leaves based on their size and shape.
  • Following sorting, the tea is graded. The grading system varies depending on the type of tea and the region but generally includes categories such as whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings, and dust.
  • Whole leaf grades are considered the highest quality, characterized by intact leaves with a uniform appearance. Broken leaf grades include smaller, broken pieces of leaves, while fannings and dust are finer particles often used in tea bags.

Benefits of Orthodox Tea

Orthodox tea offers several health benefits, thanks to its rich content of antioxidants, polyphenols, and other bioactive compounds. Here are some of the key benefits:

  1. Orthodox tea is abundant in antioxidants, which help combat free radicals in the body. These antioxidants can reduce oxidative stress and lower the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
  2. The polyphenols in orthodox tea can help boost metabolism, aiding in weight management and overall energy levels.
  3. The moderate caffeine content in orthodox tea can enhance mental alertness and improve focus and concentration.
  4. Certain compounds in orthodox tea can aid digestion by stimulating the production of digestive enzymes and promoting gut health.
  5. Regular consumption of orthodox tea can help lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health by enhancing blood vessel function and reducing inflammation.
  6. The bioactive compounds in orthodox tea, including catechins and flavonoids, can strengthen the immune system and help the body fend off infections.
  7. Contrary to the belief that tea is dehydrating, orthodox tea can contribute to overall hydration, especially when consumed without added sugars or artificial flavors.


Orthodox tea, with its rich tradition and meticulous manufacturing process, stands out as a superior tea option for those who appreciate nuanced flavors and health benefits. The process, from plucking the delicate tea leaves to the final drying and sorting, ensures that each cup of orthodox tea is a testament to the dedication and skill of the tea makers. The benefits of orthodox tea, ranging from its high antioxidant content to its ability to boost metabolism and support heart health, make it a worthy addition to any tea lover’s collection. As the world continues to embrace natural and wholesome beverages, orthodox tea remains a timeless choice that marries tradition with wellness.