For over a century now, tea has been an integral part of Sri Lankan culture and way of life. James Taylor is often regarded as the father of Ceylon tea, as he planted the first tea plant on the island in 1852 and since then much has changed. However, the one thing that has not changed is the tea manufacturing process in Sri Lanka, which still remains true to its origins. The traditional manufacturing process of Ceylon Black Tea is still practised by Dilmah.
Tea plucking is a crucial part of the black tea manufacturing process. The art of plucking the bud and two leaves has been mastered by those at Dilmah; which ensures the quality produced by our teas. Tea pluckers gather during the early hours of the mornings and late evenings to carefully handpick the leaves and bud from acres of tea plants. Once plucked and gathered in large tea bags, it’s then transported to the tea factory when the manufacturing process begins.
Withering is the first stage in the process of making tea in the factory. The tea leaves are placed in large troughs which are 6ft wide, and hot air is fanned on to the leaves for 6 hours. The heat catalyses a chemical breakdown which makes the leaves become flaccid and soft; essentially preparing it for the rolling stage of the process.
Once the moisture levels have decreased in the leaves, they are primed for the next stage of the manufacturing process-- Rolling. The chemical breakdown which occurred during the withering process now needs to be combined with the enzymes in the leaves, and this is done by using several rollers. The first roller is known as preconditioning. This process gently releases the remaining moisture of the leaves and exposes the liquid to oxygen. While this process is vital in the manufacturing of Ceylon tea, it is also somewhat risky; the rolling causes friction, which in turn generates heat, and if the temperature goes above 35°C the leaves could be ruined by an unwanted chemical breakdown, so extra care and caution is always needed during the entire process of manufacturing Ceylon black tea.
The final roller is called the Breaker Roll; where the leaves are spread out on an even surface and left to ferment/oxidise. This is a bit of a misnomer since no actual fermentation occurs here, instead, the tea leaves are oxidised under a controlled temperature with monitored levels of humidity, allowing the chemical reactions which took place in the previous stage to continue. It is in this stage where the tea gets its colour and aroma due to the oxidisation of polyphenols; the longer the leaves are exposed to oxygen the darker the colour, for instance, black tea would spend a longer time here than green tea.
Firing & Drying
By this point the tea is almost perfect; it has the right colour, flavour and aroma. However, if fermentation is allowed to continue, all these elements will be lost. Firing and drying halts the fermentation process by destroying the enzymes in the leaves, thus ensuring the right balance of flavour is maintained.
Sorting & Grading
Once the firing and drying process is complete, the leaves are moved into large meshes which separate them based on size, and this ultimately determines the grade of the tea, for example, dust, whole leaf, pekoe.
Tasting and Assessing
This is the final stage of the whole process. Tasting tea is truly an art form; the taster must assess the quality of the appearance of the tea leaf, the aroma, the cup colour and the distinctiveness of the tea.
This traditional method of processing tea, which has taken many years to master; from the delicate handpicking of the tea leaves to the oxidisation, the sorting and grading, to finally the tasting, has been mastered by those at Dilmah. The art of manufacturing Ceylon black tea is truly a labour of love, a love that Dilmah takes pride in.