I’m a few days behind on updates due to spotty Internet options. Here’s a fun breakdown of what happens after plucking.
First: the piles of leaves plucked in the morning and afternoon. At the end of the day the leaves are placed on a ventilated tray. Fans blow air upwards through the leaves to wilt and remove moisture. The idea is similar to wilting spinach.
Second: the next day the leaves are rolled. Mass produced tea is rolled in large machines, which basically bruise and tear the leaves. Since this was a small batch I rolled by hand for about an hour. This way you experience the leaves and buds changing color and revealing their fragrance. After that the tea rests and oxidizes for about 30-45 minutes before being put through an enormous dryer to stop the oxidizing process.
Third: I joined the team of ladies who were sorting tea by hand. This is the hardest part of all the steps. Your job is to pick out little brown twigs and leaves that didn’t fully change with rolling and oxidizing. It’s like finding hundreds of brown needles in huge haystacks ranging from green to brown. But the best part was getting to hear the women talking (in Nepali) and laughing, presumably gossiping about the latest village happenings.
Fourth: after sorting you get to admire the tea. The right side is the bulk of it, the left is a subset of buds that I rolled in a more fine tuned way.
The whole process took a day. Throughout the day I got to work with several of the people in the factory as well as help with moving large batches of tea through the different steps.
These are just the core steps to making black tea. Other types of tea are variations on these primary steps. What makes for the best teas is craftsmanship and experimentation by makers through the last thousand years.