The Beginner's Guide To Tea Processing Methods (2024)

With the exception of herbal teas, pretty much all the tea that you drink—from the iced green tea chilling in your fridge to the spicy masala chai you order from the local café—is derived from the leaves of the same plant: Camellia sinensis. Once leaves are harvested from the tea plant, the processing operation must begin. How a batch of leaves is processed can lead to vast differences in flavor profile, color, and even quality of the final product.

Understanding how different teas are processed can provide us with a better appreciation of the wide variety of teas on the market. Here, we’ll break down some of the basic terms used in tea processing to give you an idea of what differentiates that earthy oolong from a cup of light and vibrant green tea.


The first step in getting tea leaves ready for market is, well, actually harvesting them. For higher quality teas, the leaves are typically plucked by hand, with workers meticulously snapping off tea buds to collect the leaves.

Hand plucking can be quite painstaking, so machine plucking increases the efficiency of the whole operation—however, harvesting tea by hand is the best way to ensure that the final product is a high quality, artisanal cup of tea. Additionally, there are numerous cultivars of the Camellia sinensis plant that are ideal for specific teas. Camellia sinensis sinensis is often used for green teas, while Camellia sinensis assamica is considered more optimal for black tea production.

When the leaves are harvested can also impact the overall flavor of the final tea leaves. You may have seen different teas labeled “first flush” or “second flush”—these terms refer to the time period in which the leaves were harvested during the harvest season (typically spring through summer). Darjeeling teas are very commonly sold with these labels—a first flush Darjeeling is harvested around March and will typically have a more delicate, milder flavor than its second flush counterpart, which is harvested through June.


Once the tea buds and leaves have been plucked, they naturally wilt and lose some of their moisture. Tea makers typically employ a systematic and controlled wilting process, known as withering. While it’s not the only thing differentiating a green tea from a black tea or an oolong, the withering phase is one of the first steps in tea processing where these varieties diverge from each other.

Essentially, when raw tea leaves and buds are transported to their processing plants, they are laid out in a withering trough or mat and allowed to wilt even further under controlled temperatures and humidity levels (these can vary depending on the type of tea being made and the climate of the region in which the tea is produced). The withering process is particularly useful in that it lowers the water content of the tea by up to 50 percent, which makes later steps in the process, like disruption and fixation, easier.

The duration of the withering process varies from tea to tea. For white tea, a withering period of around three days allows the enzymes in the leaves to develop just the right amount of sugars and tannins (this is why white tea often has a somewhat sweet, almost fruity flavor profile), while black teas typically only undergo a withering process of 14 to 18 hours.

After the initial withering process, black and oolong teas will undergo “disruption.” This usually consists of bruising the leaves and damaging the cell structure a bit, which will encourage even further enzyme activity during the oxidation phase.


If you’ve ever noticed the interior of an apple begin to turn slightly brown after you bite into it, then you’ve witnessed the oxidation process. Oxidation is the process by which exposure to the oxygen in the air triggers a series of chemical reactions within the tea. This actually begins during the withering process as enzymes begin breaking down proteins and other compounds within the leaves.

Processors manipulate the extent to which the leaves undergo oxidation, which is ultimately one of the main determining factors in what kind of tea you’ll end up with in the final product. After leaves are disrupted, oxidation occurs faster than it does during the withering process, and leaves are aired out for up to three hours.

Oxidation and withering are quite similar—for the most part, the same chemical reactions occur during both. Withering can be thought of as preparation for oxidation, as it sort of jumpstarts the later oxidation phase. By the end of the withering process, the tea leaves should still have a mostly greenish color; during oxidation, the tea develops its dark brown color.

As a general rule of thumb, green teas have little to no oxidation (outside of what occurs during a brief withering period), while black teas are fully oxidized. This process not only determines the color of the final product, but it’s also a necessary step in developing the flavor of black teas and oolongs, as a variety of tannins, volatile compounds, sugars and caffeine are all developed during the oxidation phase.


Once the tea has undergone just the right amount of oxidation, tea processors begin what’s called fixation: heat is applied to the tea leaves, denaturing the enzymes in the leaves and inhibiting oxidation from going any further. This process occurs, in one way or another, with all teas except for black varieties, as black tea is fully oxidized.

With green tea, fixation occurs relatively early on, as there should be very minimal enzyme activity. Green tea fixation often involves one of two methods: either steaming them for a very brief period (usually less than one minute) or roasting them in a pan or rotating drum. Similarly, once an oolong variety has reached the ideal oxidation level (lighter oolongs will have oxidation levels closer to that of a green tea, while dark oolongs can go as far as 70 percent oxidation), it will be baked at high temperatures to ensure that it doesn’t oxidize any further.

Once oxidation ends, the tea must be dried of any remaining moisture content. Tea can be dried in a number of different ways, from lying out under the sun to let the water slowly evaporate or by using charcoal roasters.

Now, of course this isn’t an exhaustive tally of all the steps that go into processing your tea. After all, there are so many different types of teas and ways to process them, that it would be impossible to cover everything in one short blog post! Ultimately, it’s a starting point in understanding the meticulous and painstaking amount of labor that goes into producing the expansive variety of teas that we know and love.

About The Author: Practically raised in his family’s kitchen, Andrew Warner's love of food and cooking goes all the way back to his early childhood in Sacramento, California. When he headed off to Los Angeles for college, he began writing about his experiences crafting simple, cheap meals using a three-cup rice cooker, for his award-winning columnDorm Diningat UCLA’s school newspaper, theDaily Bruin. Since then, he’s fallen in love with reporting and blogging about food, serving as a managing editor forthe fashionfruit blog. You can usually find him catching up on work at one of his favorite local coffee shops – Temple Coffee in Sacramento or Espresso Profeta in Los Angeles.

The Beginner's Guide To Tea Processing Methods (2024)


What are the 4 steps of tea processing? ›

All teas are a product of the Camellia sinensis plant but are distinguished and categorized by their level of oxidation and production. Tea leaf processing can be summarized in four steps: withering, rolling, oxidation, and drying.

What is the first step in processing tea? ›

Growing. Camellia sinensis plants must be grown and harvested as the first step in making tea. Growing conditions and harvesting methods can have a huge impact in the flavor of the finished tea. So while this step is probably the most ubiquitous, it can also produce the most variation.

What is the summary of tea processing? ›

Processing of tea involves various steps like plucking, withering, crushing, drying, rolling and shaping of tea leaves through which the leaves are made ready for brewing. Tea consumption was originated in ancient China and reached the European continent in the 16th century.

What are the steps in the tea powder process? ›

After plucking, the leaves are crushed and juice pressed out. The juice is then subjected to fermentation under specified conditions. The fermented juice is steamed, centrifuged and freeze-dried to get instant tea powder. The pressed leaf residue is subjected to fermentation and drying for preparation of tea granules.

What are the 5 stages of tea? ›

There are five main stages of tea processing: Withering, Rolling, Drying and Grading and Cleaning plus for some teas there is the additional stage, that of Oxidisation.

What are the 5 steps to making tea? ›

There are simple steps and order in which you must do things:
  1. Fill up the kettle with water.
  2. Boil the kettle.
  3. Place a teabag in your favourite mug.
  4. Pour boiling water into your favourite mug.
  5. Brew the tea for a few moments.
  6. Remove and dispose of the teabag.
  7. Add milk.
  8. Add sugar.

How many types of tea processing are there? ›

There are six categories of tea: white, green, yellow, oolong, black, and dark (Pu-erh is a dark tea). The different types are categorised by the level of oxidisation or fermentation that takes place during the processing of the leaves and buds with white tea being the least oxidised and black being the most.

What is the process of making tea in 80 100 words? ›

Expert-Verified Answer

Boil a glass of water in a kettle/teapot. When the water is still boiling, pour half a glass of milk into the boiling water. Add two teaspoons of tea powder (obtained from tea plant in hills example: munnar, kerala)and sugar into the boiling content. Stir the tea and serve hot.

What is the last step in tea processing? ›

Drying. Drying is the last step towards making the tea mixture. The tea mixture's moisture content is less than 4 percent in the leaves, so they are dried at high temperatures to stabilize the taste and aroma.

How do you cure tea leaves? ›

Curing: Place the stems/leaves on baking trays and dry them in an oven at 150 degrees F for about 15-25 minutes. This process removes the remaining water and stops the fermentation. Storing: Place the dried stems/leaves in an airtight container and store in a dark location.

How do you process tea leaves at home? ›

To process leaves for black tea, do this:
  1. Pluck the very youngest leaves and leaf buds.
  2. Roll the leaves between your hands and crush them until the leaves start to darken and turn red.
  3. Spread them out on a tray, and leave them in a cool location for 2 to 3 days. ...
  4. Dry them in the oven at 250 F for about 20 minutes.
Nov 19, 2019

How do you make tea in 7 steps? ›

  1. Warm the teapot 🔥
  2. Add the teabags - quantity dependant on pot size - and pour over boiling water 💧 ...
  3. Place a tea cozy over the pot 🧦
  4. Leave to brew for a minimum of 2 minutes ⏰
  5. Add the milk to the cup 🥛 (this must be done BEFORE the tea)
  6. Pour the brewed tea into the milk.
  7. Enjoy ☕️✨
Mar 4, 2021

How do you process herbs for tea? ›

Rinse fresh herbs, flowers and seeds well with water, and then pour boiling water over them. Let the mixture steep for at least five minutes until the water has darkened and the tea tastes like the herbs. Remove the herbs from the tea and add honey, sugar or a sugar substitute to taste and enjoy.

How do you make a tea short paragraph? ›

To make tea, put water in a kettle according to the requirement and put the kettle on a stove. Let the water boil for some time. Then put tea leaves into the water. For a cup of tea one teaspoonful tea leaves is required.

What are the four fundamentals of tea tasting? ›

Now that we've covered the four cores of tea tasting -- the visual, taste, mouthfeel, and finish -- let's switch to the more practical.

How is tea processed and classified? ›

Tea is usually classified broadly by oxidation (green, yellow, white, oolong, black/red, fermented), and specifically by production methods within oxidation categories. A tea's classification—or type, style, category, etc—is determined by many factors: oxidation level, production method, growing region, and others.

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