There are so many different types of tea, and they all have such distinct flavor profiles and appearances, but did you know that teas like Green Tea, Black Tea, and Oolong Tea actually come from the same plant? Even though we can‘t tell from their appearance, these three teas are all produced from the camellia sinensis tea tree. Their difference in color and taste only comes from how they’re processed. The natural question, then, is how exactly is tea processed?
The Four-Step Process to Making Tea
There are usually four steps in making tea: withering, rolling, oxidation, and drying.
When tea leaves are first harvested, they are fresh and full of water like regular plant leaves. To reduce the water content, tea leaves are first spread out and left to wilt for over 12 hours under the sun or indoors under more controlled conditions.
Then, the tea leaves are massaged, or “rolled,” for their cell walls to be broken, allowing the essential oils and other compounds to get into contact with the air and oxidize.
During this stage of oxidation, the leaves transform in color and taste. By controlling the time the leaves react with air, there ends up being drastically different teas with different characteristics. For a lighter-tasting tea like Green Tea, this step of oxidation is skipped completely through steaming the tea leaves immediately after harvest. Because of this, the original bright green color of the leaves is also preserved. For a strong tea like Black Tea, however, the oxidation process is essential. The oxidation time for Oolong Tea is somewhere between Green Tea and Black Tea, giving it a medium shade and flavor.
Finally, to stop the oxidation process after reaching the desired color and taste and dehydrate the leaves even further, the tea leaves are dried one more round before sorting them by their quality and packaging.
Making tea is a complicated process, but the end result—flagrant, refreshing clusters of flavor, ready to be enjoyed whenever and wherever—makes all the effort involved worth it. Now, when we drink tea, we can think about the special journey that these delicate leaves have undertaken and appreciate this beverage even more.