Thousands of different teas are consumed around the world, but did you know that they all come from a single evergreen plant, the camellia sinensis? It's the processing that determines the type of tea (i.e black, green, white, yellow, oolong, or dark).
South Asia produces some of the world's best black teas. As we've travelled around the region we discovered a huge depth and complexity between the different types.
Take "first flush" Darjeelings (made from the first harvest of the year). This is a spring tea, often delicate and floral, and much paler in colour than a toasty, full bodied "second flush" made later in June. And then there's deep coppery Autumnal black teas, or those made in the Monsoon which tend to be bold and a bit astringent. Classic Assams, on the other hand, are strong and malty.
Despite the differences, black teas have one thing in common; they're all made by letting fresh green leaves whither and then darken through a process of oxidation.
Here we explain what's involved in making whole leaf black tea.
Step 1: Withering
Freshly plucked leaf is brought to the factory where it's spread out in wilting beds and left to dry out for up to 14 hours. Fans are used to push warm air through the leaves. The process of withering reduces the moisture in the leaf, allowing the leaf to become soft and supply, and easier to roll. An ideal wither reduces the moisture in the leaves by 65-70%.
Step 2: Rolling
Once the leaf is soft enough, the leaves are moved through a rolling machine. This process, which lasts about 20-30 minutes, gently massages the tea leaves and ruptures the cell walls but without breaking the leaves. This releases enzymes and essential oils and kicks off a chemical reaction in the leaf.
Step 4: Oxidation
The leaves are then brought to an oxidisation room and left to completely oxidise. This is where the magic really happens as the leaves turn from being green in colour to black, and the compounds that contribute to the flavour and aroma are produced.
Step 5: Drying & Sorting
The leaves are placed in an oven and come out as dried leaf, usually after about 30 minutes. This baking process stops the oxidation. The leaves are sorted into different grades, filled into sacks, and then boxes, ready to be shipped.
Step 6: Taste and enjoy
Finally time to taste..! In the tasting room, the teamaker will inspect the latest samples. Exactly 2g are weighed out from various different batches and steeped in nearly boiling water for 5 minutes, then strained into white ceramic cups. All are black teas, all slightly different, but all so delicious.