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Tea Production, Black and Red Teas

How is tea produced? some information is excerpted from

Grown in China since at least 1200 B.C. and in Japan since 800 AD, tea is now produced commercially in a belt that circles the earth on either side of the equator. "Superior tea comes from high mountains," is an old Chinese saying, but the best places lie in mountains below 6,000 feet. The altitude and mountain mists help protect against excessive sunlight and create the right temperature and humidity to enable the leaves and buds to develop slowly and remain tender. This way, they produce a higher content of caffeine, amino acids, and essential oils.

The frost, heat, and dampness of the lowlands are not conducive to good quality or growth. At a daily mean temperature above 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees centigrade) the buds are rough and age rapidly. Many of China's most famous teas come from well-known mountains: Wuyi (Fujian), Lushan (Jiangxi), Emei (Sichuan), and Huangshan (Anhui).

Tea plants grow best in an acid soil of pH4.5 to 6.5 with a moisture content of 70 to 80 percent, and air humidity above 70 percent. It grows from Hainan in the remote south as far north as Shandong province in more than a thousand counties in seventeen provinces (Anhui, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guizhou, Hainan, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Shandong, Sichuan, Taiwan, Yunnan, and Zhejiang ) and the Tibet and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous regions. Zhejiang, Hunan, and Sichuan rank first in order of importance, and Auhui and Fujian are also big producers. South of the Yangtze River, tea plucking can go on for seven months a year, and on Hainan Island, all year round.

The Assam type, because it is single-stemmed, is considered a tree, and can reach a height of forth-five to sixty feet. The leaves range from six to fourteen inches in length. One of its subvarieties is the dark-leafed Assam which grows at high altitudes at Darjeeling, India. The fine down on its leaves gives its product the name Gold Tipped Darjeeling, considered to have a very delicate flavor and known as "the champagne of teas." The large-leafed trees that grow in China's Yunnan province are of the Assam type. The Cambodian type, growing to about fifteen feet, is also considered a tree, and is used mainly to cross with other varieties. The Chinese classifications are (not in exactly the same order) bush, tree-bush and tree.

Tea bushes or trees take about 5 to 10 years to produce at full volume, and can live over a thousand years! Because cultivation and harvesting are labor intensive, and tea grows in areas not suitable for other agricultural crops, tea can become an effective cash crop for small farmers in third world countries, provided that start up assistance and adequate processing/ marketing sources are available.

Once grown, the first step in tea production is the harvest. Most harvesting is still done by hand, which (as you can imagine) is very labor-intensive. Some growers have had success using a machine that acts much like a vacuum cleaner, sucking the leaves off the branch. The latter method is used for the cheaper varieties of tea, as it is not capable of discriminating between the high-quality tip leaves and the coarser leaves toward the bottom of the branch.

The harvested leaves can be processed in two ways: CTC or orthodox.

CTC, which stands for "crush, tear, curl," is used primarily for lower-quality leaves. CTC processing is done by machine; its name is actually fairly descriptive. The machines rapidly compress withered tea leaves, forcing out most of their sap; they then tear the leaves and curl them tightly into balls that look something like instant coffee crystals. The leaves are then "fired," or dehydrated.

Most tea connoisseurs are not very interested in CTC tea, since this process does not allow for the careful treatment that high-quality leaves merit. But CTC has an important and legitimate role in the tea industry: since it is a mechanized process, it allows for the rapid processing of a high volume of leaves which otherwise would go to waste. It is also good for producing a strong, robust flavor from leaves of middling quality; in fact, for many varieties of leaf CTC is the preferred processing method.

The traditional method is a bit more complex, and is usually done mostly by hand. The process differs for black, green, and oolong teas. The basic steps in the production of black tea are withering, rolling, oxidation, and firing.

For black teas, first, the leaves are spread out in the open (preferably in the shade) until they wither and become limp. This is so that they can be rolled without breaking.

Rolling is the next step. This is rarely done by hand any more; it is more often done by machine. Rolling helps mix together a variety of chemicals found naturally within the leaves, enhancing oxidation. After rolling, the clumped leaves are broken up and set to oxidize.

Oxidation, which starts during rolling, is allowed to proceed for an amount of time that depends on the variety of leaf. Longer oxidation usually produces a less flavorful but more pungent tea.

Finally, the leaves are heated, or "fired," to end the oxidation process and dehydrate them so that they can be stored.

Oolong is produced just like black tea, except that the leaves are oxidized for less time.

Green tea is not oxidized at all. Some varieties are not even withered, but are simply harvested, fired, and shipped out.

When preparing tea for drinking, oolong teas are made using hot water, while that used for black tea (which is the only kind produced in India and Sri Lanka) should be virtually boiling. The water used for green tea should be much cooler, never more than 70 degrees C. and for the first cup of a really good tea, such as, water as low as 40 degrees C. has been used to produce the best results. If the water is too hot, or is allowed to remain too long on the leaves, the finest taste is lost and the bitter elements emerge.


In China, the homeland of tea, leaves that are highly fermented (a term used to describe enzyme and oxidation action)turn from green to red in color before they are dried. Accordingly fermented teas were originally known as red teas. When tea production was introduced in India by the British, the color of the dried fermented leaf, which is black, was used to describe the tea. Thus the name for highly fermented tea leaves may be either black or red.

Yunnan black tea

Enjoying a vogue in the Western market as Chinese breakfast tea, this lovely tea has rich taste and little astringency. Named for the province where it is grown, tea takes the second place in the products of Yunnan State Farms. The tea farms of Yunnan reclaim area distribute in the south and southwest of the province where the climate is warm and moist without hot summer and cool winter, which is suitable for the growth of tea trees and makes the fresh tea high output and fine-quality. The texture of these large, broad leaves is soft, the leaf meat is enriched and the flavor component is high. For these leaves, water stain is high to 46%-47%, higher than the mid-leaf and small-leaf fine-quality tea. The leaf is stout and strong ,golden appearance, soup color of bright red, dense, thick taste, strong fragrance.

Black teas from Yunnan are highly regarded for their rich, generous "malt and pepper" qualities, and have long been recognised for their quality. Tea is the traditional exported commodity of Yunnan province. Mountainous, sub-tropical Yunnan is thought to be where the tea plant camellia sinensis originated. There are wild tea plants still growing there which are over 1000 years of age! The tea bush from Yunnan has larger leaves than tea growing in other parts of China (see the notes about Assam tea below), which is why Yunnan teas are often referred to as "big leaf" teas.

As a tea planting province and an original tea production base, Yunnan started planting tea about 1700 years ago. Pu'er in Yunnan became a collecting and distributing area of tea in the Song Dynasty.

Yunnan tea is one of the world's quality broadleaf tea. The distinctive features of Yunnan tea are the bright color, the dense and durable taste. The finished products are classified into two groups by color and fragrance. Yunnan tea products include Yunnan green tea, Yunnan jade green tea, Yunnan mixed tea, Xuanchun tea, Hongbao and Yinzhen tea. The scented tea is grouped in smoked tea, white orchid tea, jasmine tea and popular jasmine tea.

Top quality Yunnan black is famous for its fat golden buds. Tea brewed from mid-grade has a reddish brown color. The aroma is sugary. The taste is mildly sweet and smooth. Its aftertaste is refreshing and clean.This fine black tea with its perfect sense of balance, exquisite tiger's eye color, and a lean vibrancy is suitable at any time of day. Like a complex wine, it is the perfect tea for food, marrying well with a wide variety of dishes. It has a distant and hard to place floral quality, yet it leaves the mouth tasting as clean as spring water. And it energizes the body and mind more harmoniously than the best of coffees.

The water used to steep this tea should be at the boiling point, 212F (100C). Use about 2 teaspoons (3 grams) of tea leaves for about every 5 ounces (150 milliliters) of water. A steeping time of about 3-5 minutes with more or less time is recommended depending on the desired concentration. A deep, brownish amber liquor with a strong smoky aroma backed by plums. The taste is rich, spicy, and smoky with a rich fruity/ spicy aftertaste. Quintessentially Chinese, the liquid equivalent of a a rich Chinese dinner, this has bold, mostly unbroken leaves that steep very quickly. This fine tea tends to cloy if brewed at high concentrations.

Earl Grey tea

Earl Grey has deeply devoted fans, check out this sample page:

Earl Grey is tea scented with bergamot. The Chinese bitter orange, citrus aurantium, besides being introduced in Spain and Sicily was also grown on the Italian mainland around Bergamo in Calabria where it gradually changed its form to citrus aurantium sub-species bergamot. Bergamot is an inedible citrus fruit shaped like a pear, and the oil is extracted from the peel. There is also an herb called 'bergamot' which smells like oil of bergamot. The herb is NOT used in the production of Earl Grey tea.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the oil from bergamot was used to flavor snuff and gin and subsequently tea. Over 160 years ago Earl Grey tea was created from a blend of black teas sprayed with oil from the Bergamot plant (Citrus bergamia). This well-known British blend is scented with oil of bergamot. Some blenders also add lavender flower buds to enhance the floral flavor. Today, both black and green teas are prepared in the "earl Grey" mode. Lower quality Earl Grey tea products use an overdosing of bergamot flavoring (sometimes artificial) to hide an inferior tea blend.

The most likely explanation of Earl Grey's link to the tea lies in the fact that when tea was coming to public attention he was an extremely popular reforming prime minister of Britain.

Earl Grey has a deep, brownish amber liquor with a strong lavender flavor and citrusy undertones. It is brewed like Yunnan black tea. The water used to steep this tea should be at the boiling point, 212F (100C). Use about 2 teaspoons (3 grams) of tea leaves for about every 5 ounces (150 milliliters) of water. A steeping time of about 3-5 minutes with more or less time is recommended depending on the desired concentration.

Green, Oolong, Jasmine, and Pu-Erh teas

Decaffeinating Tea while brewing and Taiwan Bubble Tea