The ritual of pouring hot water through tea leaves is so simple, so familiar, but when you discover the complexity and art of making tea, that’s when you see it in a completely different light.
It all starts with the leaves. The tea bush is a member of the Camellia family, growing to over 20 feet but usually pruned to 3-4 feet for cultivation.
The tea gardens that we buy from in India and Kenya have exotic names like Keyhung, Borengajuli and Doomur Dullung. These gardens are each approx. 2000 acres in size and have beautifully tended tea bushes that are flat topped and stretch out as far as the eye can see.
The Camellia Sinensis tea bush can be grown all over the world, wherever there is heat and moisture. However, it particularly loves the fertile soil of India and Kenya, where the climate is humid, warm and with little risk of frost.
At Thompson's Teas we are a little bit crazy about quality. This means hand picking every tea leaf that makes it into any one of our blends. Other common methods of production include plucking with shears, or plucking with large machines resembling hedge trimmers. However, this leads to premature cutting open of the leaf which allows the leaf juices to escape too early. For all our blends we insist on the best, which means hand picking just the top two leaves and the bud.
Plucking as we do by hand, is much more selective, is more gentle in the process, and also means that we can select only the good leaf and discard the bad. Incredibly, when sunshine and moisture are in perfect harmony, a tea bush is ready to be picked every week. When watching this short clip, remember that to make just one pack of Thompson's Tea, it takes 1 kilo of green tea leaf!
The leaf is put through a large roller, which gently breaks it down in size. This process is necessary whether manufacturing larger speciality leaves, or smaller ones for tea bags.
The leaf is broken down into smaller particles using CTC (Cut, Tear and Curl) rollers. These rollers can produce smaller leaves which are required for tea bag production, given the need for a relatively fast infusion within the confines of what is a small and compact pouch.
The juices released from the leaf after it is torn contain enzymes which react with oxygen in the air to oxidise or ferment. Over the period of an hour, this causes the leaves to turn a coppery colour much in the same way that an apple will, soon after the protective skin is broken.
This is in fact the secret behind making green tea! Not many people know this, but the only difference between green tea and your usual black tea cuppa, is that for green tea you simply don't let the leaves ferment. That's all! Watch the clip of Ross Thompson in a tea production factory in Kenya showing you this small part of the production process.