Tea has been a popular beverage in America since the first European settlers landed here in 1492. It cemented its place in our history when colonists tossed it into Boston Harbor in 1773 during the Boston Tea Party. It’s made from the dried leaves of Camellia Sinesis, which is an evergreen shrub. Green tea, oolong tea, white tea and black tea all come from the same plant, the difference is in how the leaves are processed after they are gathered.
After the tea leaves are gathered, the traditional fabrication of the tea undergoes a five-step process.
- The first step involves withering. After they are gathered, the tea leaves are spread out for softening.
- Then they are rolled partly because of how they look, but more importantly they are rolled to release their essential oils for the fermentation process.
- After rolling the leaves are sifted to separate the broken leaves from the whole leaves.
- Then the leaves are left to ferment. Fermentation is a process of humidification that takes anywhere from one to three hours. The amount of time that the leaves take to go through this process determines the color of the tealeaves as well as the tea’s taste and aroma.
- Fermentation is followed by the final step, which is desiccation. Desiccation halts the fermentation process.
In most of the tea plantations today machines are used to process all of the steps except for the fermentation processing. All of the teas, green, oolong, white and black tea go through the same five-step process. Each one just has a different amount of time for the fermentation process. Semi fermented tea or oolong tea goes through the fermentation process for about an hour. Black tea is fermented closer to three hours, and green tea is not fermented. As a matter of fact its leaves are exposed to high heat to kill enzymes which could start the fermentation process. White tea is not processed at all. It is just dried and packaged.