- All black teas, both CTC and orthodox go through four basic stages—withering, processing, oxidation and firing.
- The type or variety of leaf planted, method of harvesting and plucking standards adopted, and handling of the fresh leaf are key.
First, a few general points of interest about tea:
Tea is acknowledged as the world’s most popular beverage after tap water. But many of us really do not know tea beyond that it is a steaming beverage that we take mostly for breakfast and also to keep the day going.
We have all heard about many disputes being settled over a cup of tea. We have also heard of the common English idiom – a storm in a teacup (worry over something that is not important).
According to Chinese mythology, tea was discovered in 2737 BC by Shen Nong, the second of the three Chinese Emperors of the San Huang Period, (3000-2700 BC). He was a scholar, the father of agriculture and the inventor of Chinese herbal medicine.
His edicts required that all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution. One summer day while visiting a distant region, he and the court stopped to rest, and his servants began to boil water for the court to drink.
Dried leaves from the nearby bush fell into the boiling water, and a brown liquid was infused into the water. As a scientist, the emperor was interested in the new liquid, drank some, and found it very refreshing. The tree was a wild tea tree, and so, tea was created.
Tea is a drink made by infusing leaves of the tea plant in hot water. The name “tea” is also used to refer to the leaves themselves. There are various kinds of tea based on growing method – organic or non-organic; method of manufacture - black CTC and orthodox.
All black teas, both CTC and orthodox go through four basic stages—withering, processing, oxidation and firing.
The word for tea has remained over the years as ‘cha’ in Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese, ‘te’ (pronounced approximately ‘tay’) in Fujian, ‘chai’ in Russian, ‘shai’ in Arab, South Asia, and Turkey, and interestingly ‘Chai’ in Kiswahili. The English still call it tea while the French call it ‘tee’ (Tea Pot of India, 2002).
Now what about the value?
There are a number of factors that determine the quality (and hence the purchase value) of tea. First, there is the question of where the tea is grown. This is why one would hear of Kenyan teas, Indian teas, Ceylon teas, Darjeeling teas, Assam teas and many others. Second is the method of growing either, whether as organic or conventional tea.
A surprising consideration is that of the elevation above sea level of where the tea is grown and we would therefore have high-grown, middle-grown and low-grown teas. Then arises the method of manufacture – CTC and orthodox tea, and others such as black, green, oolong, pure, instant, iced, white and silver tips teas.
Finally, there is the factor of the flavouring and scenting of tea—jasmine, Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, lemon, tangawizi teas and others. The value and price of tea at the primary market level is a factor of the quality of the tea and the obtaining market situation.
Tea quality is an unforgiving process from tea growing to handling the tea leaf after plucking to processing the tea leaf in a factory. The process of tea production from the garden, plucking to processing has some accompanying biochemical changes that create the final tea product.
The type or variety of leaf planted, method of harvesting and plucking standards adopted, and handling of the fresh leaf are key.
At the factory, the amount of time, relative humidity, and temperature the harvested leaf is subjected to during withering, type of maceration, fermentation and drying are critical.
The final product is separated into manufactured grades as commercially used based on particle size and then packaged for the market.
There are about 15 parameters against which tea quality is then determined – liquor brightness, briskness, total colour, strength and flavour. These parameters are used both in production and in trade to determine the tea quality and its value.
Unfortunately, there is no global standard against which this is done in trade, which may lead to results that could be as varied as the number of different people doing it. But fortunately, modern science is intervening to solve this.