From Field to Cup
Tea, like wine, takes its character from the ‘terroir’
The terroir consists of a collection of environmental factors such as temperature, light, humidity, soil nutrients and elevation. These factors all combine to build a unique taste profile, for example teas grown in the Assam region of India are known for their strength and bold taste, whereas teas grown in the mountains of Darjeeling are prized for their delicate muscatel flavours.
Each plant will take on average two years before they are mature enough to be plucked. Tea plants are regularly pruned to around 1m to make it easier to harvest; left alone a tea plant would grow freely and could grow up to 17m high – more of a tree really!
There are two styles of tea processing: Orthodox and Non-Orthodox, Hope and Glory Teas are processed using the Orthodox method. Although both styles use the same steps to process tea, there are key differences between them. The primary aim of the orthodox method is to retain the flavour and structure of the whole leaf. Non-orthodox methods, such as crush-tear-curl, are mainly machine driven and aimed at quickly achieving a consistent shape, size and flavour.
Plucking new shoots from the plant is done by hand. Once plucked the leaves are sorted for uniformity and any twigs, stems and broken leaves are removed. Premium tea is manufactured from the youngest tea shoots and usually comprise of one unfurled bud with two or three soft leaves. Did you know, it can take up to 22,000 leaves to create a kilo of Darjeeling Tea?
Leaves are laid out on large trays and racks in warm air for several hours to wilt and wither. Approximately ¼ to ½ of their weight is lost during withering and the leaves become soft and pliable. Without this step of the process the leaves would shatter or crumble when rolled and shaped.
Leaves are rolled, pressed or twisted to release the enzymes and juices which oxidise as they come into contact with the air. It is during this step that the flavour of the tea begins to develop.
This step has the biggest impact on the flavour of the tea. Leaves are laid out once more, this time in a cool, humid environment to allow them to ferment or oxidise. The length of oxidisation depends on the style of tea being made. For some teas the leaves may be rolled and oxidised more than once.
The final step of the process is to ‘fire’ the leaves in order to stop further oxidisation. This is done by quickly drying them to about 3% moisture content. Drying the tea in this way means the tea will keep well.