One cannot imagine a life without tea, especially if they are drinking it from years. For millions of people around the world, drinking tea plays a central part in their lives. It is a universal phenomenon that millions of people around the world enjoy it on a daily basis. Tea is no doubt the most popular beverage in the world and is consumed in almost all the countries. It is now been grown across more than a hundred nations to meet the global tea demand. However major countries producing tea are India, China, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey and Vietnam. The world’s major importers of tea are Russia, United Kingdom, Pakistan, USA and Japan.
Tea is processed from the leaves of “Camellia sinensis,” an evergreen plant indigenous to China and India. The originator of tea is actually China from where the concept of tea spread to Japan, India and other parts of the world. In India, tea was first introduced by the British because of the heavy cost incurred on the British economy due to tea import from China in the early centuries.
People have been surprised to learn that all teas, white, green, oolong, black and pu-erh are made from the leaves of the same species. The process of oxidation is something which begins immediately after the tea leaf is being plucked and this process is the only factor that determines whether a tea plant will become white, green, oolong, or black tea. For instance, the most common tea is the black tea which is fully oxidized, causing it to turn black, while a white tea is barely oxidized at all, thus retaining its soft, silvery down.
The increasing popularity of tea is due to the enormous health benefits offered by it. The antioxidants present in the tea play a very vital role in weight loss as well as the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Fresh brewed tea is 100% natural, fat-free, calorie-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, preservative-free, and low in caffeine—tea is the healthy choice.
History says it all regarding the origin of tea. It has a long history that spans across numerous countries over thousands of years. Tea was originated in China in 2737 BC when the highly disliked Emperor ShenNung of China was removed from power and driven out to an isolated spot in Southern China. Having no money to drink anything else but water, ShenNung happened to be sitting under a tree one day when a gust of wind dropped a few leaves into his cup of boiling water. He loved the blend and found it so relaxing that he sat under that tree for the next seven years and wouldn’t drink anything else.
How is tea grown?
Have you ever given thought on how tea is grown, processed, packed and made readily available for us?
The cultivation of tea takes in a lot of time and effort, and there are techniques and procedures which need to be followed to obtain the final tea. Today, tea is the most popular drink in the world behind water, and its impact on culture and politics is huge.
The cultivation of the tea plant, camellia sinensis, has developed into a global industry of growing, drying, packing and selling. The four main areas of the industry which form a complex network across the globe are:-
- Tasters & Blenders
Although, all the networks have their own importance but one such network which cannot be ignored are the “Tea Pluckers” or “Tea Pickers.”
Who are Tea Pickers?
Majority of tea pickers are women who strap their baskets to their head and with a happy song on their lips, meander down to the tea bushes to pluck the tea leaves that have been selected for harvest. Tea plucking is the most important task in the tea garden since the quality of the final product is so dependent on the quality of the raw material. The art of harvesting has been developing and improving for centuries. Hence, Tea pickers are highly trained in the area of plucking and have been doing it for years. Every tea estate has their own tea pickers who work hard to pick the best tea leaves for them.
“Tea is a very labour-intensive product to grow: labour costs account for around half the costs of production, and 75 per cent of those are the cost of plucking. ‘Pluckers’ undertake physically demanding tasks, often enduring back pains as well as exposure to pesticides and extremes of weather.”
How is tea picked?
Tea is cultivated solely for the purpose of leaves. They grow only in the tropical and subtropical climate. In Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, the south of India and China, the tea is collected all over the year while in North-Eastern India it lasts eight months, in the North of China tea leaves are harvested up to four times a year from April till September.
Tea is harvested by hands, not all leaves are picked during harvesting but only a few top young and juicy leaves with a portion of the stem on which they have grown and the so-called bud (or tip) – an unexpanded leaf at the end of the shoot. These leaves together with stem and tips are called flush. It is a basis of tea production. Flush with just a couple of leaves is called sorted or “golden”. Usually flush has three, four and sometimes five leaves.
In order to ensure that the correct area of the tea garden is been picked, the garden is divided into sections and each day the pluckers will work on an area of the tea garden. That particular area is then touched again after a short period of time called as the “regrowth period” depending on the altitude. This overall process is called as the “plucking rounds” in which a section is plucked and then left for regrowth.
The length of the plucking round will vary, depending on factors such as the rate of growth and the availability of pluckers but is normally in the order of 7-14 days. However, in Assam during the monsoons the leaf growth will be so fast that the bushes will be ready for plucking after only 2-3 days. The other extreme is a country like Turkey where plucking is only 4 times a year!
Handpicked Vs Machine-Harvested Tea
The best tea is usually grown at higher elevations and often on steep slopes. In order to produce the best tea, it should be handpicked which is often time consuming. These handpicked trees are called as the “premium teas” which contains only the top two leaves and the unopened bud, all picked carefully by hand and then processed to reach the desired result. On a single Assam estate producing roughly 2.5m Kg (2,460 tons) of tea per year there will be approximately 1,800 permanent employees, the majority of whom are pluckers.
Manufacturers have started to compromise on the quality of the tea by growing them on large, flat, lowland areas to make it easier to harvest them by machine. Machine picked and processed tea is the kind found in ordinary tea bags at your local supermarket. They usually include the uppermost leaves and unopened buds, but also typically contains varying amounts of older leaves, stalks and stems.
Machine picked teas vary in quality and may be quite good, but can’t achieve the standards set by premium teas. Mechanical selectors are being used in order to fasten the process of picking but it results in lower standard of leaf and a poorer quality of end product. Hence, still mechanical process has not been able to replace the manual picking style overall.
How to make the best cup of tea
There are several ways to make a cup of tea and every culture has one method to prepare tea. The most important thing is the brewing of tea in order to prepare the perfect cup of tea. If brewed correctly, wonderful aromatic infusions can be produced. Brewing takes a lot of practice and with experience anyone can understand the science of brewing. One important thing to understand is that all teas are not brewed at the same pace. In fact, each variety of tea,
from green to black, needs to prepared at a different range of temperature. Because of its more delicate processing, green tea often needs a cooler temperature to bring out the right flavor. Conversely, black tea, which has been fully oxidized, needs much hotter water to bring out its characteristic baked sweetness.
For the perfect cup of tea the most important thing that matters is the quality of tea leaves which includes original handcrafting of tea leaves & freshness. Another aspect is the proportion of water used to brew the tea.
Use of fresh filtered water and the quantity in proportion to the amount of tea are the things needed to be kept in mind.
Ceramic vessels are the best while glass vessels are the best for steeping. Metal vessels should be avoided because it can give an unwanted flavor. Steeping time is another aspect to getting the perfect balance in flavor and tannins.
The brewing technique and infusion are very important while making a cup of tea and consists of three components.
Infusion is a liquid which is prepared when the tea leaves or herbs are added to kettle or pot of boiling water. The process of making an infusion is called as steeping. It’s best to make an infusion just before drinking the tea. The main purpose of infusion is to infuse the flavours into the boiling water.
Straining is done by putting a measured amount of tea leaves in the strainer and then by pouring the boiling water over the strainer. It is then allowed to steep. Remove the strainer with tea leaves and enjoy a hot cup of tea. The strainer can be reused to make fresh brews throughout the day.
Decoction is obtained when the tea leaves and herbs are allowed to simmer in a pot of water over the stove. This process extracts all the medicinal constituents and flavours from the tea leaves and herbs.
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