Loose leaf tea as offered by Suki Tea is known as ‘Orthodox’ tea, handpicked selecting only the two young leaves and the bud. The type of tea produced then depends on what actions are taken next.....
Each blend’s characteristics are not only influenced by where the tea plant was grown, its climate, soil type and rainfall, but also largely by the skilled techniques used in processing it to its dried form - this is where the magic really happens.
The first stage of the process is wilting. Once plucked, the leaf will naturally wilt but during the process this is controlled in order to reduce moisture content. A good wither will be even and is determined by the resulting weight after moisture loss as well as the aroma of the tea.
This is the chemical reaction that starts when the cell walls of the leaf are bruised, turning the leaf from a green to a brown colour. It’s this process that alters the flavour and aroma of the final cup of tea. Depending on the type of tea required (black, green, white, etc) oxidisation is either prevented altogether or deliberately initiated, controlled and then stopped. When the tea has reached the desired effect it is fixed, which halts the process.
Fixing (AKA Kill Green)
A form of denaturing the oxidation process using heat at approximately 65oc. The focus at this stage is to evaluate the size of the leaf, the moisture content and the amount being processed and precisely control the temperature and length of heating. This can be done traditionally by pan firing or steaming, either keeping oxidisation away from the plant to maintain a natural green finish (green tea) or by promoting the oxidisation to give the resulting coppery brown liquor (black tea).
Drying makes the leaf ‘shelf-stable’ by reducing the moisture content to between 2 and 4% and also enhances the final flavour profile. This can be done in a myriad of ways, but baking is the most common. Great care is taken not to over-cook the leaves. The drying part of the process is responsible for creating new flavour compounds (particularly important in green teas).
The cleaning and sifting of the tea leaves is now underway. High quality loose leaf teas are typically graded by hand. Commodity tea (tea produced with quantity in mind rather than quality) is sorted by machines which grade everything from the dust to the small and broken leaves.