A history of how tea is made and harvested

Tea has been cherished as a beloved beverage for centuries. It has a long and fascinating history that spans continents and cultures. Let's delve into the history of how tea is made and harvested, tracing its journey from plant to cup.

Origins of Tea:

Tea begins in China, where it is believed to have originated over 5,000 years ago. According to legend, the discovery of tea was accidental. Emperor Shen Nong, a renowned herbalist, was apparently boiling water when a leaf from a nearby tea tree fell into his pot, resulting in the first cup of tea. Tea was initially consumed for its medicinal properties and gradually gained popularity as a beverage.

Tea Plant:

The tea plant, scientifically known as Camellia sinensis, native to East Asia. Today, tea is grown in many parts of the world, including China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and more. The tea plant requires specific climatic conditions, such as well-drained soil, ample rainfall, and moderate temperatures, to thrive.

There are several varieties of tea, including green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea, and pu-erh tea, which are all made from the Camellia sinensis plant and are processed differently to produce distinct flavours and characteristics.

Tea Harvesting:

The process of tea harvesting involves carefully plucking the tender leaves and buds from the tea plant. The timing of the harvest is important as it can greatly affect the flavour and quality of the tea. In general, the young leaves and buds are preferred as they are rich in flavour compounds.

Tea can be harvested using different methods, such as hand-plucking, which is the most labour-intensive but ensures the highest quality, or machine harvesting, which is more efficient but may result in lower quality leaves.

Brewing Tea:

After harvesting, the tea leaves undergo a series of processing steps to develop their unique flavours and characteristics. The processing methods vary depending on the type of tea being produced.

  1. Withering:
    The freshly plucked tea leaves are spread out to wither, either naturally or mechanically, to reduce their moisture content. This helps to soften the leaves and prepare them for further processing.

  2. Rolling:
    The withered leaves are then rolled, either by hand or using machines, to break down the cell walls and release the enzymes in the leaves. This process initiates the oxidation or fermentation process, which determines the type of tea being produced.

  3. Oxidation/Fermentation:
    Oxidation is a critical step in tea processing that influences the flavour and colour of the tea. For black tea, leaves are oxidized, resulting in a dark colour and robust flavour. For green tea, the leaves are quickly pan-fired or steamed, resulting in a vibrant green colour and fresh flavour.

  4. Drying:
    After oxidation, the tea leaves are dried to halt the fermentation process and reduce their moisture content. This step helps to preserve the flavour and aroma of the tea.

  5. Sorting and Packaging:
    Once the leaves are dried, they are sorted based on size, shape, and quality. The sorted tea leaves are then packaged in various forms, such as loose-leaf tea, tea bags, or compressed into bricks or cakes, ready to be shipped and enjoyed by tea enthusiasts around the world.

Modern Tea Production

With advancements in technology and changing consumer preferences, modern tea production has evolved to meet the demands of a global market.

Large-scale tea plantations with mechanized harvesting and processing methods have become common, especially in countries like India and Kenya, where tea production is a significant industry.

Mechanised tea harvesting involves the use of specialized machines that can pluck tea leaves at a rapid pace, increasing efficiency and reducing labour costs. However, this method may result in lower quality leaves as the machines cannot discern between young and mature leaves and may also damage the tea bushes.

Tea processing methods have also been modernized with the use of automated machinery for rolling, oxidation, and drying. These technologies allow for more precise control over the oxidation process, resulting in consistent flavours and characteristics in the final tea.

Additionally, there is now interest in organic and sustainable tea production, with farmers adopting practices such as organic farming, fair trade, and eco-friendly packaging to keep up with greater demand for environmentally friendly and socially responsible teas.

The Art of Tea Making

Despite modernization, the art of tea making is still highly valued in many tea-producing regions. In some parts of China and Japan, traditional methods of tea processing, such as hand-rolling and sun-drying, are still practiced to preserve the authentic flavours and aromas of the tea.

In countries like Japan, tea ceremonies are an integral part of the culture, where the preparation and serving of tea are considered an art form. The tea master, or "chajin," carefully selects and prepares the tea leaves, controls the water temperature and brewing time, and serves the tea with grace and mindfulness, following a set of intricate rituals.

Similarly, in China, the Gongfu tea ceremony is a cherished practice where tea is brewed in small clay pots and served in tiny cups, allowing the tea drinkers to fully appreciate the flavours and aroma of the tea. The art of tea making in these traditional ceremonies goes beyond just the taste of the tea, but also embodies a sense of spirituality, mindfulness, and appreciation for nature.

Tea is not just a beverage; it is a cultural heritage that has been passed down through generations. From hand-plucking and hand-rolling to modern mechanized methods, tea production has evolved to meet the demands of a growing market.

The art of tea making is still cherished in many traditional tea-producing regions, where the preparation and serving of tea is considered an art form.

Take a moment to appreciate the history, craftsmanship, and the journey of tea, making it one of the world's most beloved and cherished beverages.

If you would like to try some high-grade tea be sure to check out our extensive range of products at Ceylon Boutique