A Beginner’s Guide to the Manufacturing Process of Ceylon Tea

The conventional process of making Ceylon tea in a Sri Lankan factory is one that has been in practice for over a century. Employing traditional methods ensures quality as well as contributing to the livelihood of a large community. There’s a certain art to the process of Ceylon Tea from the intricate way that ‘two leaves and a bud’ are plucked from the tea bush to how each tea is taste-tested before packaging.

Here is a basic guide to the manufacturing process of Ceylon Tea:

Step 1: Plucking

In the verdant tea estates of Sri Lanka, each morning or early evening, tea gatherers come together for their daily task of handpicking fresh, tender leaves from the Camellia Sinensis bush. Only the bud and the two young leaves below it is plucked. This ensures that the best tea is produced.

Step 2: Withering

The plucked tea will make its way to the factories where they will be placed in large troughs which are 6ft wide, with the length depending on the loft size. These troughs are known as withering troughs. Hot air is fanned onto the picked tea for 6 hours to allow for the chemical breakdowns and changes that are vital for the later stages of the manufacturing process. The leaves become flaccid and soft, ready for the next stage.

Step 3: Rolling

Once the 6 hours are completed, the flaccid and moisture reduced tea leaves will move into the next stage, known as the rolling stage. The chemical breakdowns that happened in the withering stage now needs to mix with the enzymes of the tea leaves. This is done in stages using different rollers. The first of these is known as the ‘preconditioning’ roll and it is a gentle process that allows the juices of the leaves to get exposed to oxygen. This is what ultimately gives the tea its colour. The process is friction based and as a result of this, a substantial amount of heat gets generated. Care must be taken to ensure that the temperatures do not exceed 35ºC (95ºF). This could ruin the tea leaf by creating unwanted chemical and enzyme reactions.

Step 4: Fermentation/Oxidisation

The final roller the leaves go through is known as the Breaker Roll. Once it exits this roller, it is spread out on an even surface and left to ferment/oxidise. This allows the chemical reactions that began in the rolling stage to continue by the exposure to oxygen. The most important of these is the oxidation of polyphenols which is what creates the flavour and aroma of the teas that we enjoy.

Step 5: Firing and Drying

The tea now has the colour, flavour, and aroma; however, if fermentation is allowed to continue without a check these elements can be lost. This is where firing and drying comes in. This process halts the fermentation process by destroying the enzymes through high temperatures of heat, thus ensuring the right balance of flavour is maintained.

Step 6: Sorting and Grading

Once the frying and drying process is completed, the tea leaves are moved through different meshes that separate them based on the size, allowing them to be sorted into different grades of tea such as Dust, Pekoe, BOP and more.

Step 7: Tasting and Assessing

This is the final stage of the tea manufacturing process. The art of tea tasting is a well-renowned process that allows experts to assess the quality of the tea. The procedure evaluates the appearance of the tea leaf, the aroma, the cup colour and distinctiveness of the tea.

This age-old process is long and requires expertise and care, both of which takes years to master. From the knowledge of the best leaves to pluck to the factory floors of knowing the right amount of heat to be applied for the perfect chemical reactions, each stage requires passion and expertise which Dilmah takes pride in.