Tea Tuesday: How Loose Leaf Tea is Made
If you are a tea drinker, you may have had a debate at some point over which type of tea is best—loose leaf or tea bags. Although people may feel strongly about one or the other, ultimately, all tea comes from the leaves of the same plant—the Camellia sinensis. It may be difficult for you to understand how this is possible, due to the fact that every tea has its own characteristic qualities and flavor profile. Today, we will give you an introductory lesson on how loose leaf tea is made, and what makes it unique. While you may be one of those loyal tea bag users, you may just feel like changing your tune by the end of this post! First, what exactly is loose leaf tea? In contrast to tea bags, which consist of a small packet with the tea leaves inside it, loose leaf tea consists of dried, crushed leaves that are steeped directly into the boiled water usually using a tea strainer. How is it grown? As we said, all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. Loose leaf tea is traditionally picked and processed, unlike tea bags which are usually produced through a very machine-driven process, that doesn’t preserve the natural range of flavor like loose leaf tea. Here is essentially a break down of the steps involved in loose leaf tea production. These steps are generally slightly adjusted based on the type of tea that is being grown. Step 1: Harvesting First, the tea trees are pruned into bushes, and the tea leaves are handpicked. Depending on the type of tea, this could mean picking just the unopened bud or the top three leaves of the bud. After harvesting, the leaves are sorted and all the nonessential items like stems, twigs, etc. are removed. Step 2: Withering These Camellia tea leaves are laid out to wither for many hours, with the exception of young leaves and buds, which eventually become white tea. During this withering time, the leaves are monitored to ensure even exposure to air. This part of the process is necessary in preparation for the next stage, when the leaves are rolled. Step 3: Rolling and more At this stage, the process will vary according to the tea type, resulting in all of the different flavors. Some of the tea leaves will be rolled, meaning rollers rupture the cell walls of withered leaves, allowing air to interact chemically with the tea juices, a process known as oxidation. This rolled tea is sent to fully ferment, and is then fired, which removes moisture in the tea, and stops oxidation. Rolled teas eventually become black teas. Post withering, another group of tea leaves is shaken or bruised, during which they are broken, and their enzymes are exposed to air, which results in oxidation. Afterwards, the tea is partially fermented and pan fired. This section of teas becomes Oolong tea. This is one of the most difficult teas to produce, because it can only be partially fermented. Still another set of teas undergoes a little different process after the withering stage. These tea leaves are steamed, rolled, and dried. Unlike white tea production, farmers use the rolled leaves instead of the buds to make green tea. As you can tell, loose leaf tea production is a very delicate and time intensive process. But in the end, we can see how it yields such a special array of flavors. Do you have a favorite type of loose leaf tea or are you getting ready to try your very first cup? Please share your thoughts with us here, and check back for even more fun facts and tea tips. For a great selection of delicious gourmet teas, please visit us today at CoffeeAM!