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Few of us realize the effort that goes into making the leaf. Most of us open the tea pack, and based on our liking, brew the tea in hot or cold water. We have no clue as to how the tea leaf has been processed, or how the natural aroma and flavor of tealeaves has been preserved for being released at infusion time.
Unlike other herbal products, the making of the tealeaf starts in the tea garden and not in the tea factory. Everything depends on the condition of the leaves, the time of plucking, the time taken to transport it to the factories, and the processes involved in preserving the flavor and aroma of tealeaves.
The finest teas are made from tealeaves that are plucked manually. The tea pickers know exactly the right time when the leaves need to be collected. They also realize the importance of plucking the tea leaves cleanly, and take great care to ensure that the leaves are not bruised or broken while plucking.
Most tea gardens are fanatical about the way tealeaves are picked. They insist that the workers pluck each and every leaf manually. They refuse mechanical devices like cutters to be used to pick tea. Some even insist that the tea pickers must cut their nails before plucking leaves.
The next is the transportation of the plucked leaves to the factory. It is important to take them quickly to the factory so that they stay moist and fresh. Now it is the job of factory workers to get them ready. They can turn them into green tea which is unfermented, Oolong tea which is semi-fermented, and black tea which is fully fermented.
Each tea has its own manufacturing process, which is laid down meticulously. For instance, Green tea is produced by steaming the leaves. The steaming is done to destroy natural enzymes within the leaves, and stop fermentation. The process softens the leaves and makes them ready for being rolled. Once rolled, the leaves are fired to remove moisture, and dry them.
The Oolong tea is prepared by placing leaves in shallow baskets and exposing them to strong sunlight. The basket is frequently shaken so that the edges get withered, and release extra enzymes for fermentation. The oxidized leaves are then fired to preserve their flavor and aroma.
Black tea is fermented fully and then dried to retain its flavor.