Our Tea Process
We follow the traditional way of making tea to ensure the natural taste and benefits are preserved.
Stage 1 - Harvesting and Collection
Unlike in other countries, Sri Lanka’s traditional system of handpicking the leaves allows us to collect the selected first two leaves and buds, also known as the first flush. The Leaves are harvested every 5 to 8 days from each field. The young and tender leaves contain the most amounts of healthy polyphenols at this of maturity, whilst they also ensure the best flavour, aroma and taste in our teas. Plucking is generally undertaken by well trained female workers due to the agility of their feminine hands. Tea manufacture begins from the time the leaf is plucked in the fields, hence the harvested leaf is promptly brought to the factory from the fields to retain the freshness of the teas and maintain the best quality end product.
Stage 2 - Withering
In the factory, the green leaves are weighed and spread on troughs for withering. Withering is an aerating process where conditioned air is circulated between the leaves, to remove any surface moisture and subsequently concentrate and chemically breakdown the juices in the leaves. It takes 10 to 14 hours for the physical and chemical changes to take place, resulting in converting the leaf to a soft and rubbery texture suitable for the next stage of manufacture. On average, 22 to 25kgs of tea is manufactured from every 100kgs of fresh tea leaves.
Stage 3 - Rolling
Rolling is the process by which the withered leaf is twisted, curled and eventually peeled off from the small stems between the two leaves and the bud. The swirling motion and the design of the rolling machines facilitate the soft young leaves to be able to get twisted and curled. The optimum whither is of prime importance for this process, which otherwise result in shredding or breaking of the leaves in to flakes. Rolling is usually done in three to four stages, each stage executed for 20 to 30 minutes. Between each rolling a roll breaking is done where the twisted leaf is sieved and separated from the rest before the leaf is passed to the next rolling machine. When the leaf cells are ruptured following the rolling of the withered leaf, the enzymes in the leaf come in to contact with oxygen in the air which initiates chemical reactions that are necessary for the production of black tea.
Stage 4 - Fermentation/Oxidisation
The finer particles collected after roll breaking, are fermented to bring about the changes necessary to make a tea liquor palatable. This process can only take place when the cells of the tea leaf are properly ruptured. Here, in the coolness and the darkness of the fermentation room, an oxidizing enzyme produces brown products from the remaining water in the tannin. During this process, the green leaf is converted to black tea. Although this is referred to as fermentation it became recognized around 1901 as an oxidization process initiated by the tea enzymes. The characteristic coppery color and fermented tea aroma is a gauge to completion of the fermenting process. This is a fine art of the factory tea maker.
Stage 5 - Firing & Baking
The fermented leaf is next passed through a dryer to stop any further chemical reactions taking place. Passing hot forced air over the tea leaves deactivates fermenting enzymes. Many organo-chemical processes are accelerated during this period, as are the enzymatic reactions before they are inactivated due to heat. Firing also reduces the moisture levels of the tea to 2 – 3%. This is critical as incomplete inactivation can accelerate deterioration of the tea during storage.
Stage 6 - Sorting & Grading
The last operation in this long process of manufacture is the sorting and grading of the fired tea. Its importance cannot be overstated as it is here that the value of the final product is often determined. The separation of tea particles into ‘grades’ (different shapes and sizes) is required so as to confirm to trade standards. This process can be long and tedious, particularly if a large number of grades are made. This is particularly so in low grown areas which can have as many as 12 to 15 grades. Dried tea is sorted into different grades by passing them over a series of vibrating screens of different mesh sizes...The various grades of tea only denote a certain size and appearance of leaf; it has no reference to quality. Broken grades normally give darker liquor and a stronger tea. Leaf grades on the hand, are lighter coloured and less strong. The quality of tea is unrelated to a grade. The graded teas are finally weighed and packed into plywood chests, multi-walled bags or corrugated cardboard cartons – all inner lined with aluminum foil. Each chest, bag or carton is stenciled with details such the plantation name, grade of tea, weight, invoice number and so on. This is the final process in the manufacture of black tea and the tea in the chests is what constitutes ‘made tea’.