Leaf Tea and Flowers

Harvesting and Grades of Tea

At the third or fourth year picking can commence. by the eighth year there should be five to eight hundredweight of dry leaf to the acre - four or five times as much of the fresh leaf.

As with coffee every berry must be touched by human hands, so every tea leaf is fingered. The average woman plucks from 25 to 75 pounds of fresh leaves a day, depending largely on the grade of leaf, the size of the bushes, and other factors.

The tips of the branches, the bud itself, and a small leaf or two, make the pekoe teas. About 50 000 buds go to make a pound of dry flowery pekoe. Orange pekoe and pekoe leaf are high-grade small-leaf teas, about 4, 000 leaves to the dry pound.

Then come the coarser pluckings, leaves 1 to 2 inches long, which make up the various grades of congous. Even the stems and the dust are marketed. the dust is a cheap source of caffein (thein) for drugs and soft drinks. It is also pressed, with an adhesive, into tablets which are popular in russia. The stems and coarser leaves go into bricks for Tibet and central Asia.

Green tea is simply the dried leaf. Black tea is oxidized, or fermented, before drying. Steam is usually employed to hasten the wilting and to prevent any so-called fermentation. As soon as the fresh leaf is steamed it goes to the rolling machine, very little hand-rolling nowadays being in evidence, which breaks down the sap-cells and thus facilitates the firing, or drying in heated pans, revolving and stirring the charge so that every leaf is thoroughly dried but not scorched.

For some black teas the fresh leaf (75 percent water) is allowed to wilt slowly on trays, then rolled to loosen the juices, spread out in shallow heaps to oxidize, and finally fired like the greens. Just what happens in the fermentation process is not well known, but the flavor is not much affected, and the caffein content hardly at all.

The oolong teas are semi-fermented.

In Burma and Siam fresh tea leaves are, according to Macmillan, "pressed and preserved on the principle of a silo, these being afterwards prepared for use by mixing with garlic, salt, oil and other ingredients." This is known as leppet or leptet tea. Soluble tea, or dried tea extract, should be popular, but has not succeeded well to date.

Excerpt from O. W. Barrett's Tropical Crops, (1928, pp. 107-108).

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