All tea comes from the "Camellia Sinensis" plant, however, geography, climate, soil conditions, altitude and how the tea is processed are all factors that contribute to the flavor profile and characteristics of the brewed tea. Most people are aware that the level of oxidation of the harvested tea leaves will generalize tea into three basic categories - Green Tea, Oolong Tea or Black Tea.
But there is one more major difference in tea production that greatly affects the finished product. Traditional Orthodox manufacturing vs CTC (Crush, Tear Curl) tea manufacturing methods.
How They Are Different and Why It Matters
Generally, CTC manufactured tea steep stronger and has more of a tendency to be bolder, stronger and potentially more bitter. Orthodox teas are usually higher quality and less likely to be bitter due to the care taken in harvesting and processing. Orthodox teas are more subtle and have multi-layered flavors than CTC teas because the leaves steep more slowly and remain fresh longer because less surface area is exposed to degradation.
The Orthodox or traditional manufacturing method produces a long wiry whole leaf tea and follows the historical process of producing a whole leaf tea where most of the processes are done by hand including rolling and twisting. Orthodox teas tend to be lighter and with less body compared to CTC manufactured teas. Great care is taken throughout the process with a lot of human interaction. The tea master follows strict guidelines for growing harvesting and processing to keep the product consistent with the desired style.
In CTC manufacturing, the withered tea leaves pass between two large rollers that are revolving opposite to one another. On each roller are a multitude of sharp blades set at an angle that mesh with the opposing roller. As the tea passes through this series of blades the tea is cut and torn apart and compressed or curled into little balls. The CTC machines will evenly crush, tear and curl them and process the tea in hours. The resulting tea is evenly processed in size and texture.
CTC is a popular variety of manufacturing since producers realize higher efficiency and yields. CTC manufactured teas are more suitable to tea bagging since they flow more easily to gravity fed bagging machines. CTC teas tend to be more full bodied and robust and are also well suited to creating blended teas.
CTC tea is less expensive and often lesser quality than Orthodox tea so it is important to known what you are buying and why. CTC teas tend to be blends of tea leaves harvested from more than one plantation during the first “flush” (harvest). This makes their flavor fairly consistent from one batch to another. However, if the tea at the start of the process is good quality, the CTC tea at the end of the process will be good quality.
Knowing which type of tea you are buying will help get the desired results in the brewed cup! If you are planning to buy some Masala Chai (spiced tea), definitely start with a CTC tea. However, if you drink your black tea straight or with just some sweetener or lemon, then start with an Orthodox tea from Imperial Tea Garden and taste the difference!
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