Tea leaf processing methodsFresh tea leaves of different sizes. The smaller theleaf, the more expensive the tea.
Teas can generally be divided into categories based on how they areprocessed. There are at least six different types of tea: white, yellow,green, oolong, black, and post-fermented teas
of which the mostcommonly found on the market are white, green, oolong, and black.Some varieties, such as traditional oolong tea
and Pu-erh tea, apost-fermented tea, can be used medicinally.
After picking, the leaves of
soon begin to wilt andoxidize, unless they are immediately dried. The leaves turnprogressively darker as their chlorophyll breaks down and tannins arereleased. This
process, known as
inthe tea industry, is caused by the plant's intracellular enzymes andcauses the tea to darken. In tea processing, the darkening is stopped ata predetermined stage by heating, which deactivates the enzymesresponsible. In the production of black teas, the halting of oxidizationby heating is carried out simultaneously with drying.
Tea harvest on the eastern shores of the BlackSea, ca. 1905
Without careful moisture and temperature control during manufactureand packaging, the tea may become unfit for consumption, due to thegrowth of undesired molds and bacteria. At minimum it may alter thetaste and make it undesirable.Tea is traditionally classified based on the techniques with which it isproduced and processed.
•White tea: Wilted and unoxidized•Yellow tea: Unwilted and unoxidized, but allowed to yellow•Green tea: Unwilted and unoxidized•Oolong: Wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized•Black tea: Wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized•Post-fermented tea: Green tea that has been allowed toferment/compost
Blending and additives
Although single estate teas are available, almost all teas in bags and most other teas sold in the West are blends.Blending may occur in the tea-planting area (as in the case of Assam), or teas from many areas may be blended. Theaim of blending is to obtain better taste, higher price, or both, as a more expensive, better-tasting tea may cover theinferior taste of cheaper varieties.Some teas are not pure varieties, but have been enhanced through additives or special processing. Tea is highlyreceptive to inclusion of various aromas; this may cause problems in processing, transportation, and storage, but alsoallows for the design of an almost endless range of scented and flavored variants, such as bergamot (Earl Grey),vanilla, caramel, and many others.