Wild tea plants can reach a height of 30 feet or more. But the tea plants grown on commercial estates throughout Asia are small, branching shrubs kept no more than two to six feet high by constant pruning. This promotes more leaf growth on the plant.
The leaves of the tea plant are long and leathery, similar in shape to those of the willow tree.
Tea leaves are picked by hand. The work is traditionally done mainly by women, who carry lightweight bamboo baskets on their backs to hold the leaves. Afterwards the leaves are placed on special wire-netting, bamboo or canvas trays where they are covered and left to wilt.
The wilted leaves are then crushed with rollers and spread out on tables in cool, well-ventilated rooms. The air reacts with enzymes in the leaves and the resulting oxidation or fermentation causes the leaves to turn black. The process is stopped by heating the tea leaves in large ovens.
After more rolling and drying, the black tea is cut, sifted and graded before being packed for shipment.
Green tea is tea that has not been allowed to ferment.
The tea plant thrives in hot, rainy climates. Today the world’s top producers are China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan and Taiwan.
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