Sunday, 8 August 2010

leaf to tea

Although I've read descriptions of the processing of tea in quite a few places, I found a very concise explanation in the Tea Geschwender Book of Tea. It's nice enough that I want to share it with you here:

Soon after plucking, the leaves are set out on trays or in troughs to lose moisture content in a process called withering. Withering renders the leaf supple and physically prepares it for further processing.

Leaves destined to be green tea are often only withered briefly, if at all. As green tea makers know, it is critical to halt the oxidation processby a brief firing, roasting or steaming of the leaves. If this care is not taken, the leaf will begin to brown and its internal chemistry will irrevocably change.

In contrast, the appearance, aroma and taste of Black tea are defined by oxidation. Tea makers will intentionally bruise (or "roll") the leaves, rupturing their cell walls and distributing their sap. As these bruised leaves are set out in special rooms, they interact with the air, gradually changing from vivid green to coppery red. Once ready, these leaves are finished in a high heat dryer. Finally, the crude finished tea is sorted by leaf size. The larger, and preferably, unbroken grades are superior products...

That's nicely put, eh? Don't understand why green tea is written with a lowercase 'g', and black tea with uppercase 'B'. Also don't know why '...Black tea are defined...'. Seems the plural of tea should be teas, but I quoted it as it's printed.

Aside from these small, potential typos, this is an informative way of explaining the steps taken to process tea. When I was first contemplating making this blog, I read about this process in a variety of places. A nearly limitless number of sites that made it sound much more complicated than this does.

I used to think that I could never adequately write about tea if I couldn't rattle off the details of rolling, withering and fermenting of tea. Oh that was another term that I read quite a bit about-fermentation. Has nothing to do with the fermentation that we normally associate with alcohol. I think the confusion of using the same word for two distinct processes leads many to stick with the term oxidation.

But here I am half a year later, and although the specifics of the process of preparing tea are more familiar to me, I'm still on the lookout for clear, concise descriptions. Hope you like this one.


  1. I have a question to you about your opinion on sources. I ran into this problem when researching've tried to hold to pretty high standards of where I get the information for that site.

    A lot of what has been written about tea has been written by people who have a direct interest in the tea business--for example, Tea Gschwender's "Book of Tea", or the Harney and Sons Guide to Tea. I was a bit disappointed with the Harney and Sons Guide to Tea because it seemed to rely SOLELY on the authority and reputation of the author, in terms of trusting the information. No attempt was made to identify the source or back up the validity of the information...I also found the coverage of topics to be biased--towards covering "high end" varieties of tea. I want to give different geographic areas equal consideration, and include material on varieties of tea that may be considered "low grade". For example, Harney and Sons completely omits mention of Shou Mei on their chapter on white tea--which bugged me partly because that's my favorite kind of white tea.


    To tie this back with your post, the withering described in this book, without heating to stop oxidation, is exactly why shou mei turns that nice brown color (and ends up with the oolong-like aroma that I so love).