In our first instalment of this series, we introduced you to the wonderful world of tea. We outlined the history of tea drinking, where it comes from, how to prepare it and the health benefits associated with drinking tea.
Now we'll get into the nitty gritty...tea growing regions, how tea is grown, how the leaves are harvested and the processing stage.
We know that tea drinking most likely originated in China, but there are now more than 40 countries growing tea worldwide. Having said this, only a small number of regions produce marketable quantities, including Argentina, Brazil, China, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Taiwan (Formosa) and Turkey. According to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), China is still the world's largest producer of tea, with India following close behind - Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey (in that order) round out the top 5.
If you've ever seen a tea plantation (in real life, or in pictures), you'll notice they all have several things in common...rows and rows (or clumps) of beautiful, lush, green bushes for days. And hilly...very hilly. Of course there are plantations on level ground, however they are traditionally built at higher altitudes, in mountainous/hilly areas. Why? The climate plays a large role in the volume and quality of the harvest. The tea plant flourishes when the climate is hot and humid with rain falling regularly throughout the year. The higher altitudes also improve quality with smaller yields, while the sloping grounds allow for natural drainage. So why in rows? Tea is planted in rows for several reasons, providing space for growth, improved drainage and we suppose it helps with harvesting as well.
Ok, so we know what you must be thinking...tea is the 2nd most consumed beverage in the world, so that means some seriously advanced technology must be in play to produce that much tea. Unfortunately you'd be wrong. Well, to be fair, not completely wrong. Yes, there are plantations that use harvesting machines, however it's important to note that the machines can damage the leaves before processing, so higher quality teas are garnered through hand picking. The majority of tea plantations still pick leaves by hand, and although leaves are picked often, only a few of the top young leaves are picked, along with a portion of the stem and the bud. This happens continuously throughout the summer and allows the plant to be harvested for as many as 100 years.
The processing of tea leaves varies by producer, but typically follows 6 stages:
That's it for part 2 - next we'll talk about all the different types of tea and how the fermenting process creates the unique flavor and aroma variations.
Now...go drink some tea. ;)
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