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Tea Manufacturing Process

Tea Manufacturing Process

PICK, ROCK & ROLL
An art that needs a lot of heart

The tea manufacturing process is an intricate one that begins with the plucking of good leaf – two leaves and a bud and results in the final tea leaf that you see. Ceylon tea is manufactured predominantly using the orthodox tea manufacturing process that has been practised for over a century.

FROM THE LEAF TO THE CUP

Although the following steps ensure the systematic manufacture of tea, the skill of the teamaker is crucial, as it is he who decides the exact timing, level and extent to which each step is executed, based on his experience and what kind of tea he finally wants. This is a process that comes with practice, knowledge and experience and cannot be merely replicated by anyone.
The teamaker’s role is therefore a vital one.

1. Plucking

Expert tea pickers pluck only the fresh leaf – consisting of the bud and the leaves below it – which is the key to ensuring a tea that is rich in flavour and character.

Purpose: To pick two leaves and bud of fresh tea
How it is done: Tea pickers handpick the tea leaves from the bushes

2. Withering

The plucked tea leaves are brought to the factory where they are put into large withering troughs which fan hot air to reduce the moisture content of the tea leaf. This ensures the leaf becomes flaccid. This is referred to as ‘physical wither’. There are also important chemical changes that take place during this time such as the breakdown of molecules to smaller units which increase amino acids and flavour compounds, the partial breakdown of walls between cells (cell wall permeability) which is important for the subsequent stages of manufacture. In order to ensure this ‘chemical wither’ takes place adequately, the plucked leaves are withered for a minimum of 6 hours.

Purpose: To reduce the moisture content of the plucked leaf
How it is done: In withering troughs with hot or ambient air fanning the leaves

3. Rolling

The purpose of rolling is primarily to break up the leaf cells or compartments and to mix up the chemical components of the leaves with the enzymes. Various types of rollers are used to achieve this objective. The first roll is often very gentle and known as the ‘pre-conditioning roll’ . The main action of the pre-conditioning roll has been found to be the gentle expression of the leaf juice on to the surface of the twisted particles. These juices dry up on the surface of the particles to contribute to the blackness of tea. Subsequent rolling is programmed to achieve a thorough breakdown of the leaf cells. A considerable amount of heat is generated by friction during the rolling process, but care must be exercised to ensure that temperature does not exceed 35ºC (95ºF) because undesirable chemical and enzyme reactions could occur at higher temperatures.

Purpose: To break up the leaf cells & mix up the chemical components of the leaf.
How it is done: In a Roller which applies pressure on the leaf in stages, using a rolling motion.

4. Fermentation/Oxidisation

Once the leaf is sifted through the Roll Breaker, it is spread out on an even surface and left to allow oxidisation or what is referred to as fermentation. The process of fermentation represents a series of complex chemical reactions which begin at the moment when the leaf is broken in the roller. The breaking up of cells which causes the mixing up of the enzymes with the other chemical compounds within the cell results in a number of reactions; the most important being the oxidation of polyphenols. An additional reaction that occurs during fermentation is the formation of some
flavour compounds.

Purpose: To allow the macerated leaf to oxidise or ‘ferment’ which is where important chemical reactions take place.
How it is done: In a Roller which applies pressure on the leaf in stages, using a rolling motion.

5. Firing/Drying

The process of firing removes most of the leaf moisture and stops fermentation by destroying the enzymes. Further, the flavour of the tea is ‘balanced’ during firing because some of the lesser desirable low boiling compounds are removed thus accentuating the presence of more useful higher boiling compounds.

Purpose: To stop the fermentation and chemical reactions in the tea leaves.
How it is done: The fermented leaves are passed through the dryer which generates high heat.

6. Sorting & Grading

The fired tea leaves are sorted into particle sizes by sending them through sifters that sift them through different meshes. This helps to categorise the teas into the different grades – Dust, Pekoe, BOP etc.

Purpose: To sort the tea leaves into the desired grades.
How it is done: by sending the tea leaves through different sifters and mesh sizes.

7. Tasting & Assessing

The made tea is then tasted and assessed by the Teamaker and expert tasters, to ensure it meets all quality standards in terms of leaf appearance, aroma, cup colour and character of the tea.

Purpose: To assess the quality, taste & character of the tea.
How it is done: By tasting the brewed tea, assessing the brewed tea leaf and the colour of the liquor.
Explore our exclusive collection of Zesta Ceylon Tea here.
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The Story of How Camellia Met Shen Nong – the History of Ceylon Tea

Ceylon Tea

“Tea is a mystery without knowing its history.”

What is tea?

Tea is a herb derived and extracted from the Camellia plant. After water, it’s known to be the second most consumed drink in the entire world. The most popular plant in Sri Lanka is the Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica plant.

The birth of tea

The birth of tea takes place in China, 2737 B.C., when a mythical Chinese emperor and herbalist claimed to have discovered tea after a leaf from the Camellia plant fell into his pot of boiling water. As a herbalist, he tested the infusion and liked it, giving way to years and years of tea production.

Shen Nong translates to “God Farmer” and is recognised as a deity in Chinese religion. He is believed to have introduced the Chinese to use of herbal drugs and plant-based medicine to cure ailments and illnesses. He is also believed to have introduced the Chinese people into the practice of agriculture by inventing the plough, axe, hoe, irrigation and dug wells.

According to legend, in his role as a patron of herbs, Shen Nong resembled a man with a translucent stomach, which helped him to see the effects of the herbal plants he ingested. It is believed that he had eaten over hundreds of different plants while noting down the effects it had on his body, which was used as a vehicle for researching the medicinal properties of each plant.

Tea became so valuable in China, that at one point it was used in place of coins.

Since the accidental discovery of tea, the herbal beverage became deeply rooted in Chinese culture and eventually moved to Japan during the 6th century. Kia, the Chinese word for tea was introduced to the western world approximately 400 years ago.

Britain and the western world

At the turn of the 17th century, Dutch and Portuguese sailors introduced Britain and Holland to tea following rich trade relations with China. The tea was sold at auctions at high prices, and was considered to be quite popular amongst the wealthy aristocrats of society. However, many believed that the tea was smuggled into the country at the time, as the official tea trade in Britain only began in 1664, that too, weighing only 2 pounds 2 ounces, which was used for the sole purpose of presenting it to the king.

Tea became a symbol of a person’s high status and was one of the sole reasons for some inventions. For example, in order to be able to provide shipments of tea to the west from China, they developed fast sailing boats, like ‘Clipper’, which reduced the time it took for a ship to sail from China to Europe. Having been endorsed by the royal family to ensure there was a continuous supply of tea, The East India Trading Company (also known as the British East India Company) monopolised the tea market and imported tea leaves to Britain. Many historians believe that it was the marriage of Charles II to a Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, which was a turning point in the history of tea in Britain, as she was said to have been a tea addict and requested for a continuous supply of tea to be brought in.  Henceforth, the beverage achieved a royal status as a ‘fashionable beverage’, first at court and then amongst the wealthy society.

By the 18th century, tea became a common household product as the imports expanded which resulted in a rapid decrease in its price. By the 1720s, black tea became more popular than green tea, and British tea drinkers began adding sugar and milk to their brew. The popularity of tea grew even further, paving its way and dominating the markets, when the coffee plantations in Ceylon were destroyed by a fungus.

The invention of black tea

The Chinese mainly focused on producing and drinking green tea, however, as the demand of tea to the western world increased, the Chinese discovered that tea can be kept longer if preserved well with a special kind of fermentation process. This brought about the iconic black tea, which managed to keep the aroma and flavour much longer than green tea.

The invention of the tea bag

In 1908, Thomas Sullivan, a tea merchant from New York is credited with accidentally inventing the tea bag.  Initially, the tea was packed in white silken bags for the purpose of sending tea samples to his customers, who eventually began making tea while it was in the bags. Hence, the trend and invention of tea bags began! The tea bag revolution resulted in a price reduction of tea as it was more convenient to not just sell tea, but also drink tea, as compared to the brewing with special utensils.

Tea and health

The first discussion on the health benefits of tea and whether it had any effect to tea drinkers began in the 18th century, when it started gaining popularity. Wealthy philanthropists worried that excessive tea drinking would make the working class weak and depressed. This carried on well into the 19th century when a newer generation of philanthropists realised that tea served as the ideal beverage for their temperance movement. They saw it a fitting substitute for alcohol, thus ending the debate on the bad effects of tea on the body.

Tea in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, or rather it’s former name, Ceylon, didn’t produce tea until the 19th century when the island was under British rule.

Pre-tea – Cinnamon

Cinnamon became the first recognized crop of the island that gained government sponsorship during the Dutch rule. Cinnamon plantations were established in Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo and Maradana in 9067. Frederick North, the British governor at the time prohibited the ownership of private cinnamon plantations, which enabled him to secure a cinnamon monopoly for the East India Company. However, by 1833, due to an economic recession, the cinnamon production deteriorated, making it unprofitable.

Pre tea – Coffee

By the time the economy disrupted the production and need for cinnamon from Ceylon, the locals had already begun harvesting and cultivating coffee.  Recognizing its potential, coffee became the next big thing for Ceylon. However, this was short-lived, as around the 1870s, a fungal disease spread across the coffee plantations and destroyed all the crops, marking the end of the era for the island and its production of coffee beans.

The era of Ceylon Tea

The British smuggled the first tea plant and rooted it in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya in 1824. Almost 50 years later, James Taylor, recognized as the Father of Tea in Sri Lanka, began a tea plantation in the Loolecondera estate in Kandy, which marked the birth of the iconic Ceylon tea. It has believed that James Taylor was the mastermind in the technique of plucking just the two leaves and bud. 10 years after the establishment of the plantation, James Taylor built and operated a tea factory in the estate and saw to the production of the first Ceylon tea. Ceylon shipped its first supply of tea in 1873 to London.

Towards the end of the 1880s, all coffee plantations and coffee stores were converted to tea and tea factories, which also required tea processing technology to develop fast in order to meet the demand for tea.

Since then, the unwavering supply and demand of tea flourished in Sri Lanka and the export of tea is one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange. The process of tea cultivation has developed into a scientific, highly skilled and mechanised business, making Sri Lanka one of the largest exporters of tea, comprising of various flavours and fragrances.

What makes Ceylon tea so special?

Many say that the reason Ceylon tea is so special is because of its unique flavour and aroma and because it has been carefully selected and picked by skilled local women, and not harvested by machines. By adapting James Taylor’s plucking technique, i.e. two leaves and a bud, the flavour and fragrance was made to stay preserved until brewed. Tea grown in Sri Lanka can be classified into 3 elevations, Low Grown, Mid Grown and High Grown; which are based on the tea estate’s altitude over sea level. These three elevations produce a diverse variety of tea which is not found anywhere else in the world in such a small geographic location. Ceylon black tea is one the country’s main specialities and has a crisp citrus aroma. Ceylon green tea made mainly from Assamese seed stock. The green tea cultivated in Sri Lanka has a fuller body, is more pungent and malty with a nutty flavour. Sri Lanka produces a very small quantity of green tea, most of which is exported to the markets of Middle East and North Africa. Ceylon white tip, commonly referred to as “silver tips” is an exclusive range of tea that is grown, harvest and rolled carefully by hand, with the leaves sun dried. The tea has a light liquoring with hints of honey and pine and a light golden-copper infusion.

Seasonal Teas

Ceylon has two seasons for tea – the Dimbula season in March, April and the Uva season in July, August. During these seasons the weather conditions present hot, sunny days and cool, dry nights which cause the tea bush to go through stress and concentrate its flavour in its leaves. These teas produce a taste character that is not found during the rest of the year. It is this special seasonal character that also made Ceylon tea famous around the world.

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Why Zesta Teas?

Zesta Ceylon Tea

Over the years, since James Taylor introduced tea to the island of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), tea has become synonymous with Sri Lanka. Recognized as a form of art, the process of manufacturing tea is a long one, before it finds its way to your cup, warming your hand and refreshing your body with each sip.

The iconic Ceylon tea stands unparalleled in the industry, offering only high quality, fresh flavoured tea. Ceylon tea is grown at various elevations, which includes: Low Grown, Mid Grown and High Grown, each area offering a different taste and character.  Zesta’s sister companies, Hatton Plantations & Watawala Plantations has a total of 17 estates spread across these three elevations.

Zesta doesn’t just give you a fresh brew of tea. Zesta gives you the experience of more than just drinking tea. From the first sip that touches your lips to the final sip that leaves your tongue, you are transported to our lush tea estates, where our skilled tea pluckers search for the finest, followed by the drying and rolling process until it is finally packed and transported to your local store.

Largest Plantation Company & Largest Producer of Ceylon Tea

Once the fresh leaves are plucked and they go through the process of creating the perfect blend for you, the tea leaves are packaged in tins, bags and sachets before it’s sent to your store. Zesta’s sister companies Hatton Plantations and Watawala Plantations together produce 25 million kilos of tea a year.

No. 1 Branded Tea Company in Sri Lanka

Watawala Tea Ceylon Limited (WTCL), the parent company for Zesta is Sri Lanka’s leading branded tea company, holding 35% of the market share. In less than 1.5 decades, Zesta has continuously challenged, surpassed and consolidated against stiff competition, with both, local and international brands in the market.

Member of Sunshine Holdings

Sunshine Holdings, a joint venture between Pyramid Wilmar Plantations. This exposure ensures that Zesta is on par with the highest international standards in terms of quality and process.

Consistent Quality – Constant progress with our process

Zesta comprises of a team of experts including planters, pluckers, tasters and marketers who know and love tea. Tea is an art created with a good brew of passion. Zesta follows a stringent quality control system that ensures and delivers the highest quality of tea production and tea packaging. The specialised tea tasting team at Zesta tastes over 1,000 cups of freshly brewed tea each day in order to give you the perfect cup of Ceylon tea.

Working for your community

Our employees are its biggest strength. Zesta owes it success to the employees for their hard work and dedication which plays a major role in tea, from planting to packaging. In order to look after the wellbeing of our employees and their families, we have implemented the following programmes in our plantations to ensure:

  • 0 maternal and infant mortality
  • 100% institutional births
  • 100% immunisation of all children of associates
  • 100% primary education for children
  • 90 Child Development Centres in our estates, with over 2,600 children
  • Sanitation facilities for over 9,000 families
  • The establishment of a Vocational Training Centre for the physically challenged in 1998, located on the Kenilworth Estate. The centre won an Asian CSR Leadership Award in 2014.

Environmental Protection & Sustainability Practices

Growing and producing high quality tea is not our only aim. Understanding that the rich soil of the island is the reason for our success, we have taken numerous measures that aid in protecting and preserving the environment.

Energy Management

Our integrated energy management approach resulted in the company investing in a briquetting machine. Using tea waste, paddy husks and saw dust, the machine produces briquettes; to create a compressed block of biomass material which can be used for fuel or to kindle a fire, which results in lower net carbon emissions. Zesta produces compost from bio-degradable waste to fertilise crops, among other measures.

Water Conservation & Biodiversity Preservation

Our group company has launched a set of programmes which are aimed at water conservation, including the harvesting of rain water and improving water retention in the soil. In order to protect the biodiversity in our flourishing estates, the company set to study the habitats within each estate, while also creating buffer zones along waters bodies.

Explore our exclusive collection of Zesta Ceylon Tea here.

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Types of Teas To Try in Sri Lanka

Tea Plantation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka came to be known as a tea country by a fluke of nature when all the coffee plantations in the country were wiped out by a fungal disease. Tea was introduced to its shores from China when a tea plant was brought over to be planted at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. It was commercialised later in time by James Taylor, who is also known as the Father of Tea in Sri Lanka. From there the rest is a tea-story.

 

True tea is all derived from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Depending on the different amounts of processing that the leaf undergoes, the differing types of tea are produced. The main types of tea are Black, Green and White. Each of these teas have their unique properties, tastes and aromas.

 

Black Tea

Black tea undergoes the most amount of processing and this is what gives it its unique black leaves. The teas itself are dark in colour, a reddish or orangish hue, when brewed and has a strong malty taste with a hint of a nutty flavour. It has a deep and satisfying aroma. Black tea is most famous in Sri Lanka and a cup of black tea with milk and sugar are a staple for any occasion.

Zesta’s Range of Black Teas

 

Green Tea

Green tea goes through less processing compared to its counterpart black tea. It is not fermented and therefore retains most of its antioxidants. Due to this, it is the tea that is famous the world over for its health benefits that includes its weight loss properties as well as improved brain function, diabetes prevention and heart health. When the tea is brewed it takes on a light yellow to greenish tinge. The taste of green tea is a mix of sweet bitterness. The rule of thumb to remember in relation to green tea brewing is that if the temperature of the water used to brew is very high, the tea will take on a more bitter taste and if the temperature is lower the tea will taste sweeter. Green tea should be consumed without sweeteners.

Zesta’s Range of Green Teas

 

White Tea

White tea undergoes the least amount of processing. It is also unique in its manufacturing process because only the buds of the Camellia Sinensis plant are used to make this tea. It is also known as Silvertips and Golden tips. The tea is hand rolled and as it retains almost all of its nutrients and antioxidants, this tea is known to have more health benefits than green tea. This tea is also a favourite of tea connoisseurs the world over. When brewing this tea much care is taken so as to retain its natural taste and to avoid “burning” the delicate leaves. White tea has a very floral like taste compared to its counterparts. Sri Lanka produces some flavoursome white teas that are unique to its regions.

Zesta’s Range of White Teas