Tea Processing Chart
Tea processing is the most important quantifier when determining or producing a tea type. Green tea, yellow tea, white tea, oolong tea, black tea and post-fermented teas all begin as fresh camellia sinensis leaves and go through different processing steps. While there are an infinite number of variations that result in an infinite number of tea styles, the same underlying processing methodologies largely define the tea’s type. It is important to note that other factors influence the quality of a tea type for example, certain cultivars of the tea plant produce hairier buds, a characteristic sought after in the production of bai hai yinzhen, or “white hair silver needle.” Furthermore, terroir and ultimately the level of care given to the tea plants and the leaves during picking and processing also attribute to the quality or lack thereof in a tea.
There are many tea processing charts that attempt to accurately depict the tea process, but many of them add unnecessary levels of complexity, or skip steps. The goal here was to depict very general processes that all tea styles within a particular type would fit into. I believe it is important to begin with an overly simplified and correct processing chart and add details later on.
Another fun thing to note, is that I made this so that it would be familiar to the discerning westerner — from a Chinese perspective, the last column “Post-Fermented Tea” would be labeled heicha or black tea. The second to last column, “Black Tea” would be labeled hongcha or red tea. That’s right. We have it all wrong here in the west — but that’s a different topic.
Feel free to challenge any part of this and to share it, just please give my blog attribution. If you find this interesting, be sure to check out my posts on some of these individual processing steps: withering, oxidation, and kill green.
Tea Processing Chart by Tony Gebely is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at worldoftea.org.
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