Tea processing and curing

Tea Processing and Curing: Unveiling the Craftsmanship Behind Harvesting and the Art of Sparkling Tea Production

Tea processing and curing are at the heart of our Naturally Fermented Sparkling Tea creation. Each bottle bears witness to an elaborate journey that begins with the meticulous selection and preparation of loose-leaf tea. Just as a winemaker cherishes their grapes, we give immense respect to our teas, ensuring they are harvested and refined with utmost care to produce our Sparkling Teas.

As an alcohol-free alternative to Sparkling Wine, this sparkling tea captivates the senses and offers a refined drinking experience with the same depth, complexity and mouthfeel you’d expect from a quality wine made from the finest grapes. In this post, we delve into the world of loose-leaf tea, exploring the various methods of harvesting, processing, and curing of tea that contribute to the creation of our exceptional non-alcoholic Sparkling Teas.

The Art of Harvesting Loose-Leaf Tea:

Harvesting tea leaves requires precision and expertise to ensure the highest quality. Here are a few key methods used by a millennia of expert tea pickers:

Hand Plucking: Hand plucking is considered the most delicate and labour-intensive method of tea leaf harvesting. Skilled workers selectively pick young and tender leaves, usually consisting of the top bud and the first two leaves. This method preserves the integrity of the tea leaves and allows for the production of high-quality teas with nuanced flavours.

All of the loose-leaf teas we use to make our Sparkling Teas are hand-picked from single-origin tea gardens in India and China. We partner closely with these tea gardens to ensure that the highest quality teas are produced while also ensuring ecological and social sustainability are promoted as the highest priority.

Machine Harvesting: In large-scale tea production, machine harvesting is commonly employed. Mechanical harvesters trim the uppermost parts of the tea bushes, collecting a mix of leaves and stems. While this method is more efficient, it may yield a slightly lower grade of tea due to the inclusion of older leaves and stems.

We choose not to use machine harvested tea leaves as the delicate flavour profiles of the finest loose-leaf teas can be affected when the leaves are broken. You often also experience a higher ratio of twig to leaf in machine harvested teas, meaning that each harvest will yield less of the exquisite flavour of the tea leaves as it is diluted by the twigs and stalks which don’t hold nearly the same level of flavour. 

The Intricate Process of Tea Leaf Processing:

After harvesting, tea leaves undergo meticulous processing to bring out their unique flavours and characteristics. The following are some common processing methods:

Withering: Withering is the initial step in tea leaf processing. Leaves are spread out on racks or trays to remove excess moisture, allowing them to wilt. This process reduces the water content, making the leaves pliable for further processing. 

The White Peony tea that we use for our Peony Blush Sparkling Rosé undergoes a gentle withering process, completed by hand, before we ferment it. This ensures that we maintain as much of the delicate flavour profile as possible for the final product.

Oxidation: Oxidation, also known as fermentation, is a crucial step in the production of many types of tea, such as black, oolong, and pu-erh. After withering, tea leaves are bruised or rolled to initiate the oxidation process. The leaves are exposed to air, allowing natural enzymes to interact with oxygen, which results in the desired levels of oxidation.

The First Flush Darjeeling we use to make Royal Flush is very lightly oxidised. It is gently rolled by hand to begin oxidation and its gradual transformation into an early black tea. It’s important that the craftsmen and women doing this are watchful of the level of oxidation, too much and we would lose the delicate fruit-forward notes created during further fermentation. 

Fixation: Fixation, or firing, involves heating the tea leaves to halt the oxidation process and preserve the desired flavour profile. Different methods are used for different tea types. For example, green tea is quickly heated to prevent oxidation, while oolong tea is partially oxidised and then fired.

Our Dry Dragon Sparkling Tea is made using pan-fired Dragonwell tea, also known as Longjing. Here, handfuls of dragonwell are brushed around the surface of a hot wok to gently pan-fire the leaves. This imparts a delightful smokiness which offers a gentle nutty finish to the final Sparkling Tea. 

Rolling and Shaping: Rolling or shaping tea leaves helps to shape their final appearance and influence the infusion process. This step can be done by hand or using specialised machines. The rolling action releases the tea's natural juices and aromas, while shaping determines the final form, whether it be tightly curled, twisted, or rolled into pearls.

The Art of Curing and Finishing:

Curing of tea and finishing are the final steps in tea processing, bringing the flavours to full fruition. Here are some notable methods:

Drying: Drying is crucial to remove any remaining moisture from the processed leaves. It helps to stabilise the tea and prolong its shelf life. The drying methods vary depending on the tea type, ranging from traditional pan-firing to modern techniques like hot-air drying.

Sorting and Grading: After drying, the tea leaves are sorted and graded based on size, appearance, and quality. This meticulous sorting process ensures consistency and helps determine the final product's market value.

We use the highest grade of tea possible to make our Sparkling Teas. This ensures we are able to deliver incredible depth and complexity from our fermentation process, delivering a naturally non-alcoholic Sparkling that is full of flavour. 

Quality Control: Throughout the entire process, tea undergoes rigorous quality control measures. Experienced tasters evaluate the aroma, appearance, taste, and infusion of the tea to ensure that it meets the desired standards of excellence.

The world of loose-leaf tea is a captivating realm of craftsmanship and expertise. The intricate process of harvesting, processing, and curing of tea leaves results in the creation of exceptional beverages like our Naturally Fermented Sparkling Tea.

Tea processing and curing are integral aspects of our approach, giving us profound insights into the dedication required for each bottle. By exploring the different methods employed in tea production, we understand the artistry and diligence that shape our products. From hand-plucking to precise refining, every stage enriches the flavors and scents that tantalize the senses.

Raise a glass to REAL Naturally Fermented Sparkling Tea—a naturally alcohol-free alternative to Champagne and Sparkling Wine, capturing the genuine spirit of craftsmanship and luxury. Intrigued by our commitment to excellence? Contact REAL Drinks or buy online to indulge in a truly artisanal experience!