tea leaves are hand plucked by the local Sri lankan men and women who cultivate our tea garden. While our tea bushes are very mature, they are kept pruned to waist-high height so that pluckers can easily access the leaves and buds from the youngest, newest growth near the top of the plant.
Freshly plucked tea leaves are fragile and can easily break apart. So as a first step in processing, the leaves are laid out to dry for several hours so they will “wither” and loose some of their moisture content. Withering softens the tea leaves, making them flexible and supple so they won’t crumble during the rest of the processing steps.
This is where our Teatulia tea leaves start developing their unique appearance and flavor profiles. As the soft leaves are rolled and shaped by machine, the cell walls of the leaf are broken, releasing the enzymes and essential oils that will alter the flavor of the leaf. Rolling exposes the chemical components of the tea leaves to oxygen and initiates the oxidation process.
Oxidation is a chemical reaction that alters the flavor of tea and helps the processed tea develop its ultimate appearance and color. How long the tea leaves are allowed to oxidize, or be exposed to oxygen, will determine the type of tea the leaf will become. Black tea leaves are highly oxidized, and are therefore the darkest in color and strongest in flavor. Oolong teas vary in levels of oxidation, and therefore have varying colors and flavors, depending on the goals of the tea producer. Green and white teas are light in color and flavor because they are essentially non-oxidized.
Firing initiates the final drying process. Once the leaf is oxidized to its desired level, we apply heat to the tea leaf to halt the oxidation process and further reduce the leaf’s moisture content so that the tea leaves can be stored without spoiling. Depending on the type of heat applied, firing can also lend some flavor characteristics to the final tea.
Once the tea leaves have dried, they are visually sorted into various groups of similar size and color to create different lots of like teas. These lots of tea receive different industry grades that rate how the tea visually looks depending on how much whole leaf, broken leaf or unopened tea buds end up in the lot. These grading systems don’t necessarily determine quality, though. The best measure of quality is how the final tea tastes.