Tea drinking is a part of our everyday routine and culture. It features in nursery rhymes and is a theme of several children’s shows including The Tiger Who Came to Tea, which is currently showing live on stage in London. But have you ever given much thought to tea processing? It takes six very specific steps to produce the beverage we all know and love. So let’s find out more. You’ll never drink a cuppa in the same way again.
Step 1: Plucking
First things first, specially grown tea leaves need to be plucked - ideally by hand. This can be done by machine too, but hand picking means only the exact leaves required for tea making are plucked. This prevents any kind of contamination.
Step 2: Withering
The next step of tea processing is withering. This begins when tea is plucked and continues until the moisture content has reduced to the desired amount. During withering, tea leaves are laid outside on bamboo mats or tarps. They can also be withered inside in troughs with forced air. This prepares the leaf for further processing such as shaping and rolling.
As the leaf dries out, the chlorophyll degrades and caffeine levels slowly rise. The flavour of the tea leaf also intensifies and new aromas develop, replacing grassier perfumes.
Step 3: Rolling
The next step is tea rolling. This damages the cell walls and brings all the juices held inside to the outside of the leaf. This exposes proteins called enzymes to the air, speeding up the process of oxidation, which is a chemical change in the leaves. Teas are rolled in different ways, but mechanical rolling machines are typically used to knead the leaves between two textured plates. In the past, rolling was done by hand but this is a tough and time consuming task.
Step 4: Oxidisation
When exposed to oxygen, many fruits and plants will turn brown - think bananas, apples and avocados. The same thing happens to tea. When they’re exposed to the air, the leaves dry out and darken, which helps to bring out the aroma and strength of flavour. Different teas are left to oxidise for different periods of time depending on the desired flavour.
Step 5: Firing
Once the tea has been oxidised to its required level, heat is applied to the tea leaf to stop the oxidation process from continuing. This also reduces the leaf’s moisture content allowing it to be sorted without spoiling.
Step 6: Sorting
The last step is sorting. Broken leaves are discarded or used in lesser quality teas while whole leaves are distributed to quality tea brands worldwide. They’re then sold to tea drinkers.
If you’re looking for ‘children’s theatre near me,’ don’t miss The Tiger Who Came to Tea. This is one of the best children’s plays for kids aged three and above, so don’t miss out.