The Tea Journey
- May 3, 2015
- Posted by: Ketepaweb
- Category: Tea Journey
Picking & transportation
Tea leaves and flushes, which includes a terminal bud and 2 young leaves are plucked from the bushes by hand. The high standard of fine plucking is the first step towards superior quality tea manufacture. The interval between plucking and delivery is kept as short as possible. As the aphorism goes, “manufacture starts in the field”. Great care is taken when transporting green leaf to the factory. This is achieved by the use of specially designed leaf carriers that permit air circulation and thus prevent any heat build-up that would affect the quality of the teas produced. Annually, the leaf carriers cover a combined distance of over 1.2billion kilometres in this exercise.
The tea leaves will begin to wither soon after picking. Withering is used to remove excess water from the leaves and allows a very light amount of oxidation. The leaves can be either put under the sun or left in a cool breezy room to pull moisture out from the leaves. The leaves sometimes lose more than a quarter of their weight in water during withering. This reduction in moisture makes the leaf pliable and easier to cut in the next stage.
The processes of tea manufacture produces three major types of made tea: green tea that is unfermented, oolong that is semi-fermented and black tea that is fully ffermented. Almost all tea produced in Kenya is by the CTC (crush, tear and curl) method. This method produces black tea that has the advantage of quicker brewing and which makes mores cups per Kg. The process involves cutting and macerating the leaf to produce a fine mash, or “dhool.” Its purpose is to expose the cell contents to atmospheric oxygen for further development through the action of enzymes. This is popularly called fermentation although it’s strictly an oxidation process.
Fermentation or oxidization is the most important stage in the manufacture of black tea, and this process makes it uniquely different from all other teas. Fermentation is carried out in custom-designed fermentation rooms. Depending on the temperature, maceration technique and the style of tea desired, the fermentation time range from 45 minutes to 3 hours. The characteristic coppery color and fermented tea aroma judge the completion of fermenting.
This is the process that stops fermentation and introduces a stable product of low moisture content between 3.0 to 3.3% that can be shipped and stored. It involves the physical removal of moisture and it’s a crucial process as it seals in all the flavour, aroma and character created during manufacture, that are released by brewing. Drying can therefore make a difference between a mediocre tea and a superb tea even though they may come from the same factory. After drying the teas are then sorted into the four primary grades and three secondary grades. The sortation is by size and fibre content. The dry tea is exposed to static electricity-charged PVC rollers that pickup the fibres and the open leaf. The thus separated teas are thereafter sorted by size, and packed.
During tasting, samples of tea are collected hourly from each grade and also the drier mouth teas and infused for five minutes in different cups. The liquor is the poured to different bowls. The taster then evaluates the tea for quality and manufacturing faults by sucking and atomising the liquid into his mouth and allowing it to linger there long enough for the flavour and character to be appreciated. He then spits it out or sometimes, swallows it. The infused leaves and the dry leaves are also inspected. The taster assesses the flavour, smell, colour etc of the infused leaf and the uniformity of size, fibre content and trueness of grade for the dry leaves. The main purpose of tasting is to ensure continuous manufacture of high quality tea by detecting any faults in processing and taking timely remedial action.
The teas are packed into large bags designed to maintain the quality of the tea for a very long time and endure transportation. They are then dispatched to buyers all around the globe.