The production of tea involves several different steps, some standard and some optional.
- The newly harvested leaves may be allowed to “wither,” or sit and wilt for minutes or hours. Withering causes them to shift their metabolism in ways that change their flavor, and to become physically more fragile. The longer the withering, the deeper the flavor and color of the leaves and the brew they make.
- The leaves are almost always “rolled,” or pressed to break down the tissue structure and release the cell fluids. If the leaves are rolled while they’re still raw, this allows the leaf enzymes and oxygen to transform the cell fluids and generate additional flavor, color, and body.
- The leaves may be heated to inactivate their enzymes and stop the enzymatic production of flavor and color. High dry heat will also generate flavor.
- The leaves are heated to dry them out and preserve them for long keeping.
- The dry leaves are sieved and graded by piece size, which ranges from whole leaves to “dust.” The smaller the piece, the faster the extraction of color and flavor.