Whether green, black or white tea, all these teas come from the same: the Camellia Sinensis plant. All different types of tea from this plant can be described as “real tea”. Depending on which tea you want to make, different production methods are chosen. In addition, there are countless different cultivars of the tea plant, which can be compared with grape varieties of wine. In Japan, for example, there are special tea plants for green tea and in Taiwan plants for the production of oolong tea. In this blog post we are not talking about herbal tea, herbal infusions or iced tea as they rarely contain the original tea plant but of course also can have health benefits.

In addition to the processing of the different varieties and the plants used, of course, there are also factors such as geographical location, soil or climatic conditions as well as the time of harvest. The highest quality teas are usually picked in spring. In winter tea is rarely picked and the tea plants have the opportunity to gather their strength in the cold season, which finally unloads in spring!

In the processing of tea there are basically 5 different production steps which apply to almost all different types of tea:

  1. Wither
  2. Roles
  3. Oxidizing/Fermentation
  4. Dry
  5. Seven and sort

Depending on how long the tea leaves are exposed to each single processing step, it decides whether it will be green tea, oolong, white tea or a black tea.

different types of tea

How is black leaf tea made?

For the quality of black tea, the selection of the picked green tea leaves is of the utmost importance. The picking rule applies: “two leaves and a bud” i.e. “two leaves and one leaf bud”. In countries such as China or India, the hand is still being picked for the most part, while in Japan, due to a shortage of workers, large, extremely precisely picking harvesters are being used. The picked sheets collect the, mostly, tea pickers in baskets, which they carry over their shoulders. After picking, the tea leaves are weighed and quickly reach the tea factory, which is traditionally close to the tea plantations. There, the fresh harvest is weighed and registered again before the actual processing begins:

The Weevel

With the wilting, the tea leaf loses about a third of the moisture in it. To wilt, spread the freshly harvested tea leaves either on slatted frame in the sun, which are covered with jute, wire or nets made of plastic. Then the tea leaves naturally wither for a period of fourteen to eighteen hours. Or you can let the tea leaves wither in enclosed rooms in large troughs in an accelerated manner, because the troughs covered with wire mesh are additionally ventilated with the help of fans, if necessary even with heated air. Thanks to this hair dryer method, the withering of the tea leaves takes only eight to twelve hours.

Rolling

This mechanical processing step destroys the cell walls of the tea leaves, so that the leaf juice contained in them leaks and reacts with the oxygen of the ambient air. The biochemical process of oxidation is thus underway. At the same time, essential oils are developing. According to the traditional (orthodox) method, special pressing spindles or roller rollers are used to roll the tea leaves. Such a roll process takes about thirty minutes and is repeated up to three times. The tea leaves turn dark green and form a moist, lumpy mass, which loosens up with the help of vibrating and sieve machines.

Oxidizing (fermentation)

The oxidation of the tea leaf juice with the oxygen of the air has begun with the previous roll. Next, this oxidation is supported by preparing the tea leaves in layers of ten to fifteen centimetres for two or three hours in special rooms. There, the temperature is around 40 degrees Celsius and the leaves are also moistened (partly by means of vaporisation). The tea leaf turns from dark green to copper red to brown. At the same time, it develops its spicy aroma for the first time. This whole process is often mistakenly referred to as fermentation, although black tea is not fermented.

Drying

The oxidation process is deliberately interrupted at a certain time by letting the tea leaves run through metal treadmills through so-called floor dryers. They dry the tea at a high temperature (between 80 and 90 degrees Celsius) for about 20 minutes. The previously oxidized cell juice dries solidly on the tea, resulting in a coloration of the same from copper red or brown to dark brown to black. Subsequently, the tea has only a residual moisture of five, six percent, with which it can be stored.

Seven and sort

With the help of mechanical vibrating screens, the dried black tea is finally sifted and sorted into the usual qualities (so-called leaf grades or grades) in the trade.

Different types of Black Tea

At a high level, different variations like chai tea – like the famous masala chai – are made out of black tea. Also Earl grey with it’s high caffeine content is made out of black tea.

How is green tea made?

Green tea production
Different types of tea require different ways of handling – here to see green tea, one of the most interesting teas 

The processing steps required to make green tea are similar to those of black tea. With the special feature that the tea leaves, which are to be processed into green tea, are heated at short notice after wilting in order to prevent the oxidation process that has started. This is precisely what is the most important difference between the production of black and green tea– which only takes place in the approach. In other words, the degree of oxidation serves as a decisive characteristic for the classification of teas.

To stop the oxidation, you can use the tea leaves

  • Heat to about 280 degrees Celsius in huge, woks-like, cast-iron pans for about ten minutes, pressing the tea leaves against the bottom of the pans and turning them. The pans are fired with wood and operated manually. The tea leaves are almost roasted in it and the teas are therefore also called “panfired teas”.
  • using the Japanese method, bring them into rotating drums, where they are steamed with hot water vapor for two minutes. This method is used in Japan, for example, for the popular everyday tea Sencha.

However heated, the high temperature converts the enzymes of the tea plant and thus prevents oxidation. The green tea retains its until then fresh, slightly grassy, tart taste, which is typical of green teas. So does its color. The bitter taste is due to the fact that there are still catechins in green tea that have not been enzymatically converted.

Oolong Tea – Production 

For a long time, little was known about how to make oolong tea outside the borders of China and Taiwan. It is traditionally produced in both regions, but more recently also in India, Nepal and Vietnam. The cost of making oolong tea is higher than the cost of making black or green tea, experts say. They distinguish between seven processing steps:

Caiging – Harvesting different types of tea

Harvesting is made up to four times a year and only the first to maximum fourth leaf from the bud. In addition, oolong is usually picked a little later than other teas, so that the leaves can grow slightly larger. The later harvest time will make the taste much more pleasant, softer and rounder.

Weidiao – the Wilting

The wilting process is practiced as with black tea or green tea, but at Oolong you sometimes switch between the wilting in the sun and the interior.

Zhuoging / Yaoging –

The highest quality oolong teas are hand-pressed into bamboo baskets and shaken up.

Shaging – Fixing

To fix the flavours in the leaf juice on the tea leaves, roast them in high tubs.

Rounian / Zhuoxin – rolling and forming

With pressure and rolls, the tea leaves are brought into shape, whereby cell juice is pressed again, which ensures a special taste. The pressing and rolling is performed several times in a row with a short-term heating.

Hongbei – Baking

Baking takes place in two steps:

Step 1 (Maohong) is a quick baking over high heat to dry the tea leaves completely and fix their shape.

Step 2, the slow baking (Zhuhong), can last up to seven hours in low heat. It is used to improve the color, aroma and durability of the oolong tea.

Sorting, cooling and packaging completes the processing of fresh tea leaves into oolong tea.

You see that making tea is not a simple and quick process, but requires a lot of work and love. We have made it our mission to bring the highest quality tea into your cups.

Production of white tea

Purely from the production process, the white tea is the easiest to make. White tea is very natural and goes through only a few steps. First, the tea is harvested, with the most high-quality varieties usually only the top leaf bud and one or two tea leaves. With enormously high-quality and expensive varieties such as the famous Yin Zhen, only the valuable leaf buds are harvested. Afterwards, the tea is only wilted and dried. This naturalness preserves many valuable ingredients in white tea. White tea is known to have potentially positive health properties.

We hope you have this little insight that pleases the variety of varieties of the tea world. We wish you a lot of joy in discovering many new teas! We would be very happy to visit our online shops!

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)