How black teas are made: A Beginner's Guide to Black Tea Production

Kanchanjangha Noir and Kumari Gold


Black tea is the most common tea that is consumed throughout the world. In terms of numbers, black tea accounts for more than 68% of total tea consumption in the world and more than 80% of consumption in the US alone according to the Tea Association of the USA. While the world of tea has evolved a lot and we hear a lot about different kinds of tea these days, what we need to understand is that every single tea in the world comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. What categorises all the varieties of tea into White, green, oolong, black and pu’erh is mainly a common process known as oxidation that happens naturally. 


The tea industry has evolved a lot and with it the customer perception, the exclusivity and, of ofcourse, the premiumization of tea. I generally like to follow a pattern in the wine industry. If we think back on the market of wine, decades ago, people just ordered red or white wine and cared less about other aspects of it. Over time, people developed a taste for pinot noir, cabernet, chardonnay, merlot and so on. Now, you'll find people ordering 1985 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon Cask 23. You can see where I am going with this. For tea, it is the same exact trend, people knew only black tea and green teas previously and now they've been educated enough to distinguish between, green, black, oolong, white and so on. Now, you'll also find people who will only drink Makaibari Darjeeling 1st Flush or Ceremonial grade Matcha from Japan. This premiumization is legitimate as the consumers have developed certain types of taste profiles and associate these teas with not just the high price but the craft and the limited availability of these products. No wonder we refer to tea as the new wine!


In this blog we will focus specifically on how black teas are made and even within black teas, two special teas that we produce namely,
Kanchanjangha Noir and Kumari Gold. The black tea making process follows quite a scientific step-by-step process that is combined with the “art” aspect of the tea maker. Therefore, we tend to call the tea making process a combination of art and science. 


Plucking

Generally, two leaves and a bud are plucked during the summer season from every bush in an interval of 7 days. During the summer, with the right amount of heat and rainfall, the tea bushes are at their peak maturity and that is the busiest time in tea production.

Our special Kumari Gold black tea, often known as golden tips tea, has quite a bit of unique tweaks to the normal black tea processing technique. Similar to other specialty teas, generally only one leaves and the terminal bud are carefully plucked during the second flush (summer season).  This is one of the biggest distinctions between a normal black tea and our special golden tips. 

 

Withering

The freshly hand-plucked delicate leaves are withered to get the moisture out of the tea leaves so that the leaves remain intact during the rolling process. The leaves are withered in withering troughs for several hours, sometimes even overnight depending on the type of leaves and the season. With the majority of the water evaporated, the rubbery leaves are then placed on a rolling machine. The withering process is mainly done to lose the water content in tea. After the desirable loss of moisture is attained, the tea makers transfer the wilted leaves to the rolling machine. 

 

Rolling

The rolling process is one of the most important steps in the black tea making process. With utmost care, the leaves are rolled by machines that rotate in a circular motion and the applied pressure is controlled and changed throughout the rolling process. While our classic black tea is rolled for half an hour, the Kumari Gold is only rolled for about 20 mins at varying pressure. The rolling process bruises the tea leaves and breaks the cell walls that allows the essential oils  and other enzymes to be released and react with oxygen. This process is significantly important in bringing out the final flavor profiles and aroma of the tea.


Oxidation 

Oxidation is nothing more than enzymes reacting with oxygen in the air. I am sure everyone has seen how a half-bitten apple turns brown within a short period of time. That is the exact process we let happen with the rolled teas. The bruised teas are layered into oxidizing trays or just on marble floors to sit there and just react with oxygen. 

This is the period of time, the tea leaves go through a visible change in color from pale green to dark rich brown. It is also during this time that the tea leaves develop the strong aroma of roasted nuts, caramel and/or dark chocolate. 

During the oxidation process (especially for the Kumari Gold), the leaves are turned and set in many different positions in frequent intervals. This is not only critical in bringing out the desired flavors, but it also enhances the golden coloring of the buds through oxidation.

 

Drying

After sufficient oxidation, depending on the type of black tea being produced, the tea is then dried in a commercial dryer.  This process stops the oxidation process completely and also locks in the aromatics developed during the peak of the oxidation process. This drying process basically completes the production process for the black tea and the final teas that come out of the dryer is known as The DMT (Dryer Mouth Tea).

 


Sorting

Many teas are sold as DMT (Dryer Mouth Tea) without any sorting but our Kanchanjangha Noir goes through many other sorting and grading processes. The DMT is  placed though several tea sorting machines that result in different grades of teas such as SFTGFOP1, TGBOP, GOF and so on. After machine sorting, the teas also go through a manual hand-sorting before being packed and sent to our customers.