Did you know that some tea plants have been around for 185 years? Tea is currently grown around the world for many different varieties of flavors that vary by geographic region, weather, soil, harvest time and manufacturing processes. Black tea is the most commonly consumed tea around the world and 85 percent of the tea consumed in the United States is black tea. Lipton sold by Unilever is the leading tea brand and is sold in more than 150 countries. Other top brands include Tetley, Bigelow Tea, Wissotzky Tea and Twinnings of London. All teas, not including herbal, mate and red tea, come from a single plant species: the Camellia sinensi which originates in China, Tibet and northern India.
Just like wine, the quality of tea depends on the cultivar (a plant variety produced in cultivation by selective breeding), terroir (a set of land, climate and plant characteristics) and the manufacturing process. If one of these processes goes wrong the quality goes down. So when it comes to tea production the process is not exactly easy. It takes three to five years after being planted for a tea plant to reach maturity and the bud and two top youngest leaves are picked and transported for processing.
First the tea leaves are spread on large screens called withering racks and forced-air dried for four to 18 hours to reduce moisture content to a specific 68 percent. For black tea, the withered leaves are rolled and crushed to release an enzyme that produces oxidation. For the oxidation process, the leaves are placed in trays and stacked in racks and allowed to oxidize for a few hours until an enzyme causes the leaves to darken and develop the typical tea flavor.
Next comes firing. The leaves are heated in large temperature-controlled ovens which stop the oxidative process and dries the leaves to four percent moisture content so that mold doesnt occur during packing and transportation. The dried leaves are then sorted by size and graded. The small cut leaves are generally used in tea bags and the larger leaves are sold as loose tea. The sorted and graded tea is then packed and shipped to tea companies for direct sale to consumers or for further processing into tea-based products.
Excellent herbal teas include elder berry, lemon balm, lemongrass, peppermint leaf, raspberry leaf, rose hips, and spearmint leaf. Other acceptable herbal teas include anise seed, caraway, echinacea, ginger, hibiscus flower, lemon peel, nettle, orange flowers, passion flowers, saw palmetto, Siberian ginseng root, uva ursi, and yarrow.