You love tea, but how much do you know about tea production? Did you know that the earliest records of tea date all the way back the 10th Century? Most people believe that tea was first produced and cultivated in China, but actually it could have either been China, Burma, or Tibet. No one really knows the exact origin. The Chinese people made the consumption of tea popular, and began trading tea, as well as the tea plant to Western nations in the 19th century, and tea gained its popularity all over the world.
The tea plant (its scientific name is Camellia Sinensis) should be grown in cooler climates or a place at a high elevation. When the tea plant matures, the leaves are then harvested. The leaves from one tea plant can be harvested for several years. Picking the leaves can be tricky, because they have to be large yet they cannot be too old. The only leaves that are picked are the top two leaves and the bud (at least for many teas, including black and green tea). For some teas, only buds are picked. Growing the tea is only the beginning of the meticulous tea production process.
After the leaves and buds are picked, there are two goals of tea production. The first goal is to drive the moisture out from the leaves of the tea. The second goal is get the flavor to the surface of the leaves so that it transcends to the water when one is steeping the tea.
To achieve these production goals, the leaves are spread out, and they need to wither for several hours. This will cause the leaves to lose their moisture, then the leaves can be rolled without any tearing occurring. During the rolling of the leaves, membranes of the leaves break and release the natural flavor and juices, and those become collected on the surface of the leaves. After this, the fermentation process begins. Leaves go into a cool, humid room and essential oils that give tea flavor and aroma are produced. Once the correct aroma and flavor are produced, the leaves are placed in a large oven where the essential oils dry on top of the leaves. This way, the flavor and aroma will stay on the surface of the leaves until they are submerged in hot water. The last step is to sort the tea leaves by size because the larger the tea leaves, the longer you have to steep it, so it is important that there is consistency when tea is packaged. Loose leaf tea is available in grades. You can either get the largest leaves (which are more rare, since most of the leaves end up breaking during the production process), which is the best kind of tea, or smaller leaves that have been broken. Tea bags are the lowest grade of tea, stuffed with fannings and tea dust.
If you ever wondered where tea came from, and how it was grown, cultivated and processed, now you know. A lot goes into tea production, and it is almost an art to achieve flavorful, well-produced tea.