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The tea bush

Tea comes from the Camellia family and there are two main species of tea bush; Camellia sinensis that originates from China and Camellia assamica that originates from India. There are also numerous hybrids from the above two species which have been developed to suit different conditions. The Camellia sinensis leaf is smaller and more delicate than the assamica leaf. The Camellia bush is an evergreen with a small white flower and left to grow wild becomes a tree that can grow up to 20 metres.

There are four main types of tea, Black Tea, Green Tea, Oolong Tea and White Tea. There are also non traditional teas known as Herbal and Fruit Flavoured Infusions.

A woman picking tea leaves

Main types of tea

Black tea
Black tea

All teas are ‘plucked’ and the tea pluckers select the new shoots, typically the first two leaves and a bud. Tea pluckers recognise the exact moment the tea should be removed from the bush to ensure only the tender leaves are used to produce the finest tea.

Green tea
Green tea

Green tea goes though a slightly different process to black tea. Depending on the type of green tea, the leaves may or may not be withered. The tea is then either steamed or pan-fired to stop the oxidation process. The leaves are then rolled and fired.

The colour of green tea is retained as the heating process stops any chemical reaction with oxygen (oxidation) preserving its greenness.

Oolong
Oolong

Oolong tea is semi-oxidised and therefore falls between black and green tea. There are many types of Oolong tea, ranging from very light, fragrant teas to dark coppery teas with the taste of burnt caramel.

The leaves are wilted and are then shaken in baskets to lightly bruise the edges and left only until oxidisation has set in along the leaves’ outer edges.

White tea
White tea

White teas are rarer than other teas and can only be plucked once a year. These teas are produced using only the first bud and top leaf from the new season’s tea bush. The tea is withered and then dried. White tea got its name due to the fine white downy hairs that covers the first bud. These teas are very pale in colour, light and delicate in taste.

Infusions
Infusions

There are also other types of non traditional teas known as Herbal and Fruit Flavoured Infusions. Herbal infusions are produced from plants, fruits and spices which do not originate from the tea plant Camellia sinensis but are infused using boiling water. There is a huge selection of plants such as Camomile, Peppermint, Linden, Hibiscus and Rooibos to choose from that can be blended together to give a delicious alternative to other beverages. Twinings sources over 100 different ingredients from around the world.

The process of manufacture is different for infusions than that of tea. For example Camomile and Peppermint leaves are placed in the sun to dry and then cut, cleaned, sieved, blended and steam treated to the requirements of the buyer.

The manufacturing process

Black tea goes though four main steps of manufacture:

Withering

The objective of withering is to reduce the moisture content in the tea leaf. The plucked leaves are laid out in troughs where air is passed through the tea, removing the moisture. This can take up to 17 hours and by the end of the process the leaves have a ‘wilted’ appearance.

Rolling

There are two types of rolling:
Orthodox – Where the leaves are rolled between rollers until gently broken.
CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl) – Where a machine cuts and tears the leaves into smaller pieces.

The purpose of this process is to break the leaves so the enzymes are released and the third step of oxidation begins.

Oxidation

The broken leaves are laid out to ‘oxidise’ or ‘ferment’. This part of the process is very important as this will significantly impact the overall taste and quality of the tea. This can take up to two hours.

Drying

To stop the oxidation process, the tea leaves are heated. The dried tea is now ready to be sorted into grades before packing.