Tea leaves are plucked from the tea bushes when the tea plant produces new shoots or "flushes."
Pluckers hand-pick only the two uppermost, tender, young leaves and a small, unopened
bud. After picking, the tea leaves are processed. There are several different methods to
process tea, and the method used determines which of the three major types of tea varieties
the plucked leaves will become:
- Green tea leaves are steamed immediately after plucking. This steaming prevents oxidation or fermentation from taking place. After steaming, the tea is dried, either by machine or by hand in a wok over a fire. Finally, the leaves are rolled into one of many possible shapes.
Green tea leaves produce a liquor that is pale or yellow-green. Some examples of Chinese green tea are Gyokuro ("Pearl Dew"), Lung Ching ("Dragon Well"), and Young Hyson.
- Oolong tea leaves wither and oxidize for a much shorter time period than black teas. This method of preparation results in a tea that shares characteristics of both green and black teas. These teas are sometimes called "semi-fermented."
Oolong tea leaves produce an amber colored brew. Some of the best Oolong teas are from Taiwan (Formosa).
- Black tea leaves are withered after plucking, meaning that they are placed on racks and moisture evaporates as the leaves dry. After withering, the leaves are placed in large rolling machines, which twist and roll the leaves, freeing the natural enzymes and juices of the tea. This process is called rolling.
After rolling, the leaves are placed on racks, to oxidize, which is the mixing of the teas natural enzymes and oxygen. During this process, the leaves turn black. After fermentation, the leaves are then dried to stop further chemical activity. These teas are also called fermented teas.
Black tea leaves produce red-orange to deep red-brown liquors. Black tea accounts for 97% of United States tea imports. Some examples of black tea are Assam, and Keemun. The island of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) manufactures black teas, as well.
Other changes to the processing method can produce other types of teas. Two examples are given below:
- Jasmine tea is a Chinese green tea which has flower blossoms spread throughout the leaves. This results in the tea having a delicate floral aroma. This tea is referred to as a scented tea.
- Lapsang Souchong is a Chinese black tea which is purposely smoked during drying. This process results in a very distinct tarry scent and flavor.
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