Chinese legend has it that tea was created by accident over 2700 years BC. A servant boiled drinking water for his emperor when leaves from the Camellia sinensis tree fell into it – and the emperor decided to taste the drink. While to make tea nowadays on a medium to large-scale you need tea processing equipment like dryers instead of just a tree and wind blowing it, mythology adds a special flavor to the tea industry story.
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Black tea making: what kind of tea processing equipment do you need?
The tea manufacturing process determines what path the Camellia sinensis leaves will take. This tree’s leaves are the base for every type of tea: fermented (black tea), semi-fermented (oolong tea), and non-fermented (green tea). “Fermented”, however, is just the traditional way manufacturers call the process of oxidation, as teas don’t go through any fermentation.
The first step to produce black tea is withering, when producers subject the green tea leaves to wilting, to enhance the flavor compounds and reduce moisture.
You use tea withering troughs that blow hot air from fans in order to dry the leaves. This process takes at least 6 hours, but depending on humidity conditions, it may take days. Once it finishes, the leaves go to a rolling machine.
Rolling machines can belong to two categories – orthodox and CTC. The orthodox method counts with rolling machines that roll the leaves 3 to 4 times, bruising them but not tearing them apart. This usually leads to releasing milder leaves of caffeine. The contrary happens to CTC machines. Called Crush Tear Curl or Cut Tear Curl, CTCs cut the leaves into small pieces repeatedly and allow them to oxidate. This releases the natural juices of tea and increases the caffeine concentration in the product.
Green, white, oolong – manufacturing differences between tea types
While black tea is still the most produced type of tea globally, green tea manufacturing is also rising due to the health benefits perceived by consumers. To make green tea, you subject the leaves to heat as high temperatures prevent them from oxidating, guaranteeing that their freshness will be preserved. You can do that by dipping the leaves in hot water or using steam; both methods will inactivate the leaves’ enzymes. Once this happens, a cooler helps to prepare the leaves before they go to a rolling machine. Finally, a dryer takes care of the rolled leaves.
China and Japan are two of the main producers of green tea. Chinese producers often pan-fire the tea leaves in large woks and manually roll them. In Japan, the processes often count with automation; some producers use, for example, highly calibrated machine cutters when harvesting the leaves.
Oolong teas are in the middle of the way between green and black teas. They still need withering troughs before going to rolling machines, but their oxidation time is shorter than black teas and they can also be pan-fired to cut the fermentation process.
When making white tea, the process requires fewer steps and machinery. To produce white tea, which is a very lightly oxidated tea type, you use the buds of very young plants, which are very delicate and cannot be damaged – otherwise, they oxidate. This makes the raw material rare and the process, more expensive. White tea is the less processed type of tea there is, so in this tea production you only need a sorter and a dryer.
How will you serve your tea? Packaging solutions and their characteristics
There are a number of tea packaging solutions depending on which type of product is coming out of your tea factory. If we’re talking about dried leaves, you have the option to combine them with flowers and herbs and pack them in pouches, cans or tea bags.
Pouches use aluminum in their composition, which protects the tea from damage such as oxidation, moisture, and UV light. They can also be made with paper, which is a more eco-friendly material but also lasts for less time. When it comes to teabags, every available shape influences the efficiency of the infusion. Flat, round-shaped, and pyramid tea bags compete in the market to bring both distinctive brand characteristics for consumers and also more flavor to the tea. A few years ago, UK’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled out that, compared to round teabags, pyramid bags had more space for the tea to move, which would allow it to release more taste.
Still in regard to teabags, producers used to make them with paper, but recent manufacturers tried to differentiate their products with more “premium” designs, using other types of materials. The most common of these was polypropylene. A study from McGill University in Montreal, however, showed that this type of tea bag can release billions of microplastics into people’s cups of tea.
Other than that, if your final product is already liquid, you need different tea processing machinery to pack it in cans or bottles, such as filling, capping and labeling equipment.