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Tea Manufacture

Orthodox Manufacture vs CTC Manufacture

Tea Manufacture

Tea (Camellia sinensis) is grown in literally thousands of tea gardens and estates throughout the world. While tea is manufactured in dozens of countries, the five traditional tea producing countries are:China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and Taiwan (Formosa). As with wine, variations in plant strains, soil type, altitude, and climate lend character and flavor unique to each tea estate.

Methods of Manufacture

Tea pickers in tea fieldAll types of tea begin with the tea leaf from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. How the tea leaf is processed after it is picked determines if it becomes white, green, oolong, black, or pu-erh tea. Tea can be manufactured using one of two approaches, orthodox or CTC. Orthodox production methods, whether done by hand or by machine, generally preserve the integrity of the tea leaf.

On the other hand, CTC manufacturing (or “crush-tear-curl”) uses machines to mince, shred or crush the leaf. Both methods can produce excellent teas; however the orthodox method is typically considered the more “traditional,” and produces tea that is generally more complex in flavor and aroma.

Orthodox Manufacture: Orthodox manufacture begins by selectively picking (often by hand) tea leaves. The leaves are allowed to wither, reducing their water content and making them soft and pliable. Once withered, the leaves are gently rolled to break down the cellular structure, beginning the oxidation process. The oxidation stage is primarily responsible for differentiating tea into its various categories – white, green, oolong, and black. The longer the oxidation process is allowed to continue, the darker the leaf becomes. Once the desired level of oxidation is reached, the leaves are dried to halt the oxidation process and make them suitable for distribution. The dried leaves are then graded and sorted into various sizes: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings (small particles) and dust.

CTC Manufacture: CTC (Crush-Tear-Curl) is the most well known non-orthodox method of manufacture, and was invented during WWII to increase the weight of the tea that could be packed into a chest. It also eliminates some of the labor required to produce tea, thus increasing the speed and efficiency of tea manufacture.

In the Crush-Tear-Curl process, tea leaves are plucked and withered. After they are withered the tea leaves are passed through a series of cylindrical rollers that crush, tear and roll the tea leaves into tiny, irregular balls that somewhat resemble coffee grounds. Once completed, the leaves are left to oxidize and are finally fired. After the tea is fired, it is sorted into different grades.

CTC tea is used primarily in mass-market teabags. Given the small particle size, CTC tea has a greater surface area ratio than whole leaf tea, causing it to brew quickly and generally have a thicker body with more astringency.