Tea may be from one plant, but many different kinds of tea are made from the different processing methods applied to the same plant.
Tea is manufactured in two general ways: CTC (Crush-Tear-Curl) method and the Orthodox method (i.e. Whole-leaf and/or Loose-leaf tea). CTC tea is produced by a machine that creates uniform pieces of tea for use in tea bags. This tea steeps quicker, but can also release more tannins than loose teas giving a harsher flavor to the tea. The Orthodox method is much more labor intensive and time consuming, but produces a more well rounded tea.
The Orthodox manufacturing process follows these steps, allowing for some variations that produce the different types of loose-leaf tea:
- Plucking (for all tea): Always handpicked new growth (the top 2 leaves and bud).
- Firing (only for Green tea): Oxidation is prevented by heat. Green tea is steamed or pan-fired to avoid oxidation by killing the enzymes that cause it.
- Green teas from China are often Pan-fired
- Green teas from Japan are often Steamed.
- Withering (for Black, Oolong and White tea): Tea leaves are put into troughs on screens and exposed to hot air.
- Rolling (for Black and Oolong tea only): The leaves are rolled in a machine to further oxidation.
- Oxidation/Fermentation (for Black and Oolong tea only): Compost like pile of black tea is formed and the temperature is taken. Stopping the oxidation process at the right time is very important part.
- Drying (for White tea only)
- Sorting & Grading: Tea is sent to go through tables with wire mesh with holes of different sizes and graded.