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Tea Processing Steps

Tea Processing Steps

The prospect of a seed, the resilience of a tender tree, the survival of a shoot and the arrival of a bud. The journey of the Camellia sinensis plant is quite intriguing. That’s just the beginning.

What happens when green leaves are delivered to the factory? Delivery is done at the green leaf reception. At the reception, a visual inspection procedure known as leaf analysis is conducted.

During my tour of Nyamasheke, I visited Gisakura and Gatare tea estates. I left this Western Province district more acquainted with the beverage that kick-starts every day of my life. Today, allow me to present a brief description of the five main processing steps namely withering, rolling, oxidation, drying and sorting.

Withering is the removal of moisture content from green leaves. Upon arrival, leaves usually register a moisture content of 80 to 85 percent, depending on the weather.

When fresh leaves are spread out on ventilated troughs, excess moisture is sucked out. This procedure reduces humidity to the range of 65 - 70 percent.

Most modern factories use a rotor vane to roll leaves. What follows is a multi-level cutting procedure. Some factories use a method known as Cutting, Tearing and Curling (CTC). In this case, the leaves spin on rollers fitted with sharp teeth that crush, tear and curl them into smaller pellets. Rolling squeezes out the juice that aids oxidation during the subsequent step.

Oxidation, also known as fermentation, is tea’s version of brewing. It is at this point when leaves are transformed into the magic potion some of us can’t do without. Classification of tea depends on the degree of oxidation. This step determines the color, flavor, taste and aroma of the final product. As oxidation is effected, green leaves turn brown.

At the drying stage, steam is released from a powerful radiator. The leaves are then exposed to temperature levels of up to 130°C. Heating is regulated to ensure the required level of drying is maintained. Drying reduces humidity to as low as 3%.

Sorting separates fiber components, stems and other unwanted fragments from the batch. The two factories I visited use a sorter known as vibro screen. This machine classifies tea according to the sizes of its particles before final grading.

Tea comes in different types, taste and color. However, processing follows a similar set of methods, with minor variations here and there. After processing, the final product is packed, weighed, stored and dispatched.

Processing tea is a complex operation. However, learning in a hands-on way made the highly technical topic easy to digest.

The author is an adventurer on a mission to discover what Rwanda has to offer. His tour of Nyamasheke was sponsored by Nyamasheke District, The Click Creations, Tec Global Ltd, Elimo Real Estate Ltd and Exposure Digital.

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