The first stage in the manufacturing process is plucking. The best quality teas are produced when the top two leaves and a bud are plucked.
Many believe that plucking is the most important task performed on the tea estate, since the quality of the final product depends on the quality of the raw material. The subsequent manufacturing process can only retain quality - it cannot improve it.
The green leaf has to be soft and malleable prior to cutting. During the withering process it loses about a third of its moisture with the help of warm or ambient air. The plucked leaf lays in long shallow troughs, and the warm air is circulated by fans situated at the end of the trough.
If the leaf is not soft and withered then too much watery juice is released during the cutting process which reducing the quality of the finished product.
Leaf cells are ruptured by one of two processes - rolling or CTC. This releases enzymes and exposes them to oxygen (orthodox manufacture: where the leaves are rolled into shape. CTC manufacture: the leaves are Cut, then Torn, then Curled through a series of 3 cutters. Hence CTC).
This process involves the oxidation and condensation of tea catechins (polyphenols found naturally in tea that act as antioxidants). Visually the tea turns from green to brown. With green tea production fermentation does not take place so the leaf stays green.
Typically the leaves are dried in a large oven. The heat destroys the enzymes and stops the fermenting process.
Different markets traditionally buy different sized leaf types. The tea bag markets (Europe/USA) will prefer smaller sized leaf that infuses quickly and gives a strong brew whilst packet markets such as Pakistan will prefer larger sized leaf.
The tea is passed over a series of sieves which sorts it into different sized leaf particles. Then the tea is ready to be packed up and shipped to us and our expert tea tasters and great production teams get to work on preparing a blend to be enjoyed by Tetley drinkers.