Tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in many parts of the world. China is the largest consumer of tea. There are four common varieties of tea – black, green, oolong and white tea. Tea plantations flourish in hilly regions at an elevation of sea level to up to 4,900 feet. The region should receive a minimum of 40 inches rainfall annually.
Tea comes from a plant belonging to a species called camellia sinensis. The leaves and the buds of this plant eventually becomes tea powder. They are pruned at specific time intervals to stop them grow into a tree. Before the leaves turn yellow, they are plucked in such a manner that plant does not grow above the waist level of tea pluckers. Machines are not employed to pluck leaves as they may damage the leaves bringing down the quality of tea.
Once enough quantity of tea leaves is plucked, they are taken to the tea factory inside the plantation. There is an important reason for the factory to be situated close to the plantation. The reason is the leaves start to oxidize once it gets plucked. We know what happens when we cut an apple and leave it for some time. It changes color due to oxidation. The same goes with tea leaves.
As a first step in tea processing, the leaves undergo withering. It is a controlled process by which the leaves are exposed to hot air for long hours in order to reduce their moisture content. The leaves are left to wither in order to improve the aroma of tea because withering removes the volatile chemical compounds stored in the leaves. Leaves would have lost some of the moisture by now. Then the leaves are gently rolled and allowed to oxidize in cool, damp air. Reaction with oxygen causes leaves to change color from green into red shade. The leaves are dried again and leaves of different sizes are sorted and then ground. Tea powders come in different sizes and grades depending on the size and quality of the leaves.
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