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Is it Black Tea yet?

November 7, 2013

Okay I am a tea geek!  I recently had the opportunity to attend a class that allowed me to create tea. I found the experience fascinating & want to share the unique experience with you.

Here is a brief summary of how to create orthodox black tea.

Each tea (black, green, white…) has different steps to their process, though I had the chance to walk through black, green, white and yellow.  I will just discuss the orthodox  black tea. Orthodox tea simply means preserving the integrity of the loose leaf tea which in turn allows for a more flavorful & nutrient rich extraction.  It’s counter part is CTC, (crush, tear, curl).  These leaves have been crushed, torn and curled, resulting in leaves becoming small pieces rather than loose leaves. There is a definite place for CTC but not in today’s talk.


Dong women plucking tea in the Yunnan Provence of China

Is it Tea Yet?


The process for black tea began with the plucking of the tea. FYI Most of the plucking done in China, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and India is done by hand.  Japan largely plucks mechanically.  The tea we worked with was hand-picked from Hawaii!

This was one of the leaves from my cluster. The unfurled bud and 2 leaves with minimal stem demonstrates the careful worker artfully  selected the best!



Then comes the withering stage.  In this stage the leaf looses moisture.  This enables the leaf to be pliable permitting the rolling and shaping stage to proceed without breaking the leaf. Here the tea master needs to assess the level of readiness.  Factors that influence will be humidity and  rain fall prior to plucking…  Since our leaves had been plucked 2 days before we were to shape them they were kept in a dry environment to slow the process. Waiting 2 days is not typical!

We were on a roll!


Hand Rolling Tea

The rolling/shaping stage was challenging.  It took a great deal of effort to hand-roll. This is when I began singing in my head “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.”  We all shared the responsibility and it was amazing how much we accomplished.  On a tea estates there can be a combination of machine rolling which mimics our hand rolling motion and some hand rolling.  Artisan white are primarily if not entirely done by hand. I was quite surprise by how much moisture was removed the cloth was  quite wet by the time I finished rolling. SInce I was in  class we took turns for it took a great deal of gentle but firm pressure and time. Due to the oxidation that is occurring chemical & physical changes were occurring. The oxidation process significantly contributes to the flavors in the end product.

Fully Oxidized

the classic characteristic of black tea.

warmer firing black teaIn our classroom we did not truly get to a fully oxidized stage. We had limited time and the environment varied from the natural terrior which influenced the end product. We did pretty well! This warmer heated the tea slowly. The heat came through the base to the tea in the woven basket with a mesh between the warming device and the tea. There are several different types of  drying devices on tea estates for firing.  This step in black tea is done once the leaves are fully oxidize.  The signature statement of black tea.



Sorting the Resu

In our classroom we gathered around a basket  of leaves and sorted by size.  On a tea estate often there will be a room of skilled ‘sorters’ who will sort by size. Often a mechanical separator is used. It will have several layers with a mesh in between each layer. The mesh grid will decrease in size until the lowest one is a fine mesh.  TEA SORTER-768x1024The bottom layers will be dust and fannings.  These two layers are often used in traditional tea bags.  The higher levels of the sorter may be hand sorted. If no mechanical sorter is used it may be done entirely by hand.


This is an entire topic to be discussed at another time.  But the letters you often see following a tea are a standardized grading system.  Each nation’s tea growers have helped to develop a system they find meaningful and useful especially at auction.  We of course did not grade, we just enjoyed the fruit of our labor on our second day of the class. See tea talk and tips and learn about the grading system in India & Sri Lanka.

A basic description would be

Pluck       →     Wither     →      Roll     →      Fire      →       Sort      →      Grade

      (Oxidation starts  →  Oxidation Complete)

Keemun Tea

Keemun Tea 

Fun Conclusions

Today many tea sojourners tour tea estates, experiencing first hand the tea process.  For me, even though this was not on an estate, I found the encounter meaningful from a cultural perspective. The beauty of the black tea process incorporated a surprise element for me.  The experience was done in community with many fellow tea entrepreneurs.  I found creating the delicious product together with others who enjoy the world of tea to be delightfully fun. Though I am truly a product of Western culture,  I appreciated the collective experience as we went from station to station together to roll, fire and sort the tea. We processed tea while producing community, a value we have at K’Tizo Tea!                                Judy

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