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The world of tea is a fascinating one, and offers plenty of opportunity for further research and exploration of flavours.  To help you on your way, here are a few topics to get you started:

Tea Processing

There are two main methods of processing Black Teas:

Orthodox: Still used in China, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, this is the most respectful method. Leaves are allowed to wither in warm air for up to 18 hours to reduce their water content. When they are pliable enough, they are rolled in a machine that breaks the cell structure and begins the oxidisation process. After the first roll small pieces are sifted off and larger pieces are rolled a second or third time. After rolling, the leaves are left to oxidise, becoming darker and taking on the distinctive taste of black tea. To stop this process the leaves are fed into dryers.

CTC: (Cut, Tear, Curl) – a method used in major-tea producing countries to provide stronger tea, especially for teabags and blends. Developed in the 1950’s this process uses similar methods to the “orthodox” process, but the leaf is chopped by a CTC machine into small pieces, rather than being rolled.

All Black Teas undergo the four manufacturing processes:  withering, rolling, oxidation and drying.

Withering - This process softens the leaf and allows it to lose between 40% and 50 % of its moisture. This process usually takes between 18 and 20 hours to complete.

Rolling – The leaves are then passed through machines that roll them lengthways, breaking the cells, realising their essential oils

Oxidation - The leaf now undergoes a series of complex chemical reactions that cause it to blacken. The process involves exposing the leaf to a humid environment at a constant temperature. If it is fermented too much it loses its astringent character and the leaf looks burnt; if it not fermented enough it has a bitter taste and the leaf turns a greenish brown.

Drying – This is a delicate operation that stops the fermentation process at the required moment. The leaves are subjected to a dry atmosphere and high temperature. They will conserve only 2% - 3% of their moisture.

Tea Grading

Ever wondered what those acronyms such as B.O.P. mean, or what is an Orange Pekoe?  They are all part of the standard method of grading primarily Black Teas, not by quality but by size of leaf.  Whilst the leaf size plays an important part in influencing the overall flavour of the brew, quality is also determined by location, climate and tea processing.

The grading system relates to the size of the leaf and its appearance.

When harvesting tea, the top few freshly grown leaves are picked. The very top buds are a higher grade. As you go lower down the shrub to the larger leaves, the grade goes down too. A standard Orange Pekoe (OP) grade typically means the top tea leaf before the tea bud. A Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP) means the very top tea bud. A Pekoe grade is a larger leaf underneath the Orange Pekoe leaf, and below that, you'll find a Souchong grade.  These are called Whole Leaf Grades - below these are Broken Leaf Grades, so if you break an Orange Pekoe leaf and you end up with a Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP). Fannings and Dust are what's left when you process whole leaf and broken leaf grades.

Tea Storage

There are many misconceptions regarding how to store tea, so here are some tips on storage to help you to enjoy your tea at its best.

  • Humidity, light and air are the enemies of tea, so store it in a place that avoids exposure.
  • At home it’s best to transfer loose tea and bags into an air-tight container or tin caddy, or ensure that you seal the bags well.
  • If you put tea in a glass container, such as a Kilner jar, ensure it’s stored in dry, cool, cupboard as light and humidity will break down the leaves and reduce quality.
  • Like your coffee beans, NEVER store in the fridge – moisture will get onto the leaves
  • Be careful with flavoured teas as the strong scents can affect other teas.
  • Don’t mix teas in the same container once empty.

Ensure that spoons are perfectly dry if you are measuring out from caddies, tins etc.