Plucking of tea leaves.

The process of producing Ceylon tea begins with the plucking of the first two leaves and the bud from the tea bush of Camellia Sinensis. The third and fourth leaves are considered to be of poor quality; their function is to support growth by providing needed nutrients.

Each day, Sri Lankan pluckers must collect 18 kg to 25 kg of tea leaves, depending on the plantation. Any additional amount earns them a bonus. Besides collecting the right leaves, workers remove dead buds from the plant to accelerate its growth. Other work on the Sri Lankan tea plantation includes management, operation of machines, and weighing and cleaning of picked tea leaves.

When their bags are filled with tea leaves, the pluckers take them to the collection point, where the leaves are weighed and then transferred to the tea factory for further processing. The weight of tea collected by each person is recorded in a special notebook. At the end of the day, everyone knows how much money should be paid to individual collectors.

Making of Ceylon black tea by the orthodox method.

The next steps describe the process of making of the Ceylon black tea which undergoes oxidation. The process for the back tea differs from the production process for the green tea, which does not undergo withering and oxidation. The described here traditional process of manufacturing tea is also called orthodox, as opposed of the CTC (crush-tear-curl) process which uses machinery. The majority of Ceylon tea produced on Sri Lanka is made with the orthodox method.

Withering, the controlled removal of moisture from tea leaves.

The main goal of this stage is reducing the water in the tea leaves, which become softer and more flexible and therefore easier to roll. The collected tea leaves are spread out on a net in huge troughs on the upper floor of the tea factory. At the end is a large fan that blows air from below to increase air circulation through the leaves. Windows are left open to let air flow freely in every direction. The water content of the tea leaves is reduced to about 40%. This tightly controlled withering process lasts 12 to 15 hours. Then the leaves are moved in bags to rolling machines on the ground floor of the tea factory.

Rolling tea leaves with controlled pressure

Thanks to the controlled withering of the leaves, their flexibility is now ideal for the process of leaf rolling. This consists of subjecting the leaves to gentle pressure through a machine whose upper part rotates clockwise, parallel to the lower part. This allows the tea leaves to be twisted gently, rather than broken, causing their cells to release juices. With the juices exposed to air at the relatively high temperature generated by the rolling process, oxidation begins. It is worth noting that green tea is not subjected to this process. Oxidation in the green tea is prevented by roasting the leaves at high temperature.

Screening, the initial selection and cooling of tea leaves.

Screening allows the selection of tea leaves by size. Any rolled leaves that are too small are returned to the previous stage and re-rolled. Then they are transferred again to the screening device. This is repeated as needed until the leaf reaches the desired size. In addition, an important function of leaf screening is cooling the leaves, which prevents overly rapid oxidation.

Black tea oxidation.

One of the most important aspects of black tea production is oxidation, the reaction of some constituents of tea with oxygen. Starting just after rolling is finished, oxidation lasts from 45 minutes to two hours and takes place at a temperature between 24 and 29 degrees Celsius (75 – 84 deg. F). It is very important that the air temperature in the room not exceed 32 degrees Celsius (89.5 deg. F). After the oxidation process, the tea is moved to the next stage, drying.

Drying of black tea and the stopping of oxidation.

Drying, or roasting, of tea involves subjecting the leaves to high temperatures, around 90 to 95 degrees Celsius (194 – 203 def. F. The main objective of this process is to reduce the water content of the leaves to 4% to 5%. Drying also stops oxidation. After it has been dried, the tea must be cooled immediately to prevent over drying.

Sorting of tea.

This step of tea production sorts the tea leaves by size and places them in separate containers. The sorting process routes the leaves through a series of machines with different sieve sizes, starting with the smallest openings and finishing with the largest. Typical black tea grades produced are Orange Pekoe (OP), Pekoe, Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP), and Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (FBOP). Very small tea particles are sorted into Fannings and the smallest into Dust.