Tea leaves are extracted from the leaves of an evergreen shrub named Camellia Sinensis. The magical leaves are responsible for brewing the second most-consumed drink around the globe, right after water. You brew your tea leaves in warm water, or perhaps milk, and there you have it!
But regular tea drinkers are well aware of the fact that not all tea leaves give you the same infusion. Each type or grade of tea leaves are well suited to provide you with a specific kind of drink. Satisfying each customer with a particular drink well suited to them seems a challenging work in itself. No worries, the tea industry has got your back! Experts are continually coming up with ways to create more from the leaves, to give more to the customers.
The processing of tea leaves is done in different ways in different places. Although every tea industry tends to follow a specific course of processing the tea leaves best suited for them, the making of commercially viable tea leaves from the raw tea leaves, extracted from the tea shrubs, can be broadly categorized into two methods. While the orthodox method is the most common method of tea production across the globe, the CTC method is a speedy and effective alternative.
You have probably come across the term CTC without getting to know much about it. What exactly is CTC tea? How is it different from the orthodox tea? Where is it produced? What is all the buzz regarding it? Here is everything that you need to know about these fast-growing tea leaves.
So, what is CTC tea? Tea leaves manufactured using the method of CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) are known as CTC tea leaves. Leaves produced using the CTC method give small, hard pellets-like the structure of tea leaves. These leaves are quick to infuse and very strong in flavor. It is specially useful while brewing milk tea.
History Of CTC Tea Production
The origination of the CTC tea production dates back to 1930s by Sir William McKercher, Superintendent of Amgoorie Tea Estate in Assam, India. The process quickly became popular in the 1950s throughout India and Africa. Nowadays, this is the most common method of production of black tea across the globe. It is also known as Mamri tea.
In India, the CTC tea production method is the most prevalent method of producing black tea. Almost 80% of the total black tea production accounts for this method. Dooars and Darjeeling of the North Bengal region, Assam and parts of South India are famous for the production of CTC tea leaves.
Other countries where CTC tea leaves are produced are Vietnam, Sri Lanka, China, Kenya and other parts of Africa.
What Is CTC Tea?
CTC tea leaves are the black tea leaves produced using the industrial method of CTC. CTC is the acronym of Crush, Tear, Curl. The name is self-explanatory to the technique used for production.
The tea leaves produced using the orthodox method are controlled to make sure the tea leaves are cut and torn to a precise level. The oxidation level is maintained to a controlled level and is hand-rolled. CTC tea leaves are cut, torn and rolled simultaneously using a CTC processing machine.
The tea leaves produced using the CTC method become hard reddish pellets. In this method, tea leaves are made to pass through a series of sharp blade rotors which crush and tear open the plucked tea leaves. Machines then roll these tea leaves into rigid pallets of tiny size. Tea leaves produced using this method are robust in flavor, have a slightly bitter taste and are very quick to infuse.
CTC tea leaves are significantly in demand for the quick and robust infusion it provides. This is the reason CTC tea leaves complement greatly with milk to produce milk tea. Milk is a naturally sweetened drink. It, therefore, needs a much more potent and faster infusion to yield the best quality tea. Milk tea and CTC tea leaves are inseparable partners.
CTC tea leaves are passed through a series of cylindrical rollers with several sharp teeth that crush, tear, and curl the tea into small, hard pellets. The pellets vary in size and are sorted according to this into various grades, each with a quality specific to them.
Production of CTC Tea
CTC tea leaves are produced in a method different from the traditional way of production of tea leaves. CTC is the acronym for Crush, Tear and Curl. The name is self-explanatory of the technique used for production.
Tea leaves are plucked from the tea shrub. Leaves of different sizes, texture and quality are plucked together and kept for drying. In the process of tea processing, withering is the first and most crucial step. By this process, the tea makers condition the plucked tea leaves and thus enable the tea leaves to be processed further.
Withering helps the leave lose the excess water allowing it further in the process. Green leaves extracted from the tea plant contains a water level of about 75%-85%. The proper condition of withering can reduce the water percentage to approximately 70%.
This process makes the tea leaves flaccid. With such condition in the tea leaves and reduced water retention percentage, the tea leaves are ready for twisting and curling to be followed later. This step is the foundation of the tea manufacturing process and thus needs to be monitored very carefully. Depending upon the requirement for the product, withering can range from 3 hours to almost an entire day.
Green tea leaves are then sent to leaf sifters where there extraneous matters such as metal pieces, dust, sand particles, pebbles are eliminated from the tea leaves. The leaves are then very necessarily sent for preconditioning where tea leaves pass through a series of leaf shredder and rotor vane together. These steps prepare the leaves for further manufacturing.
Maceration (also known as disruption) is the process where the tea leaves are bruised or torn to promote faster oxidation. The leaves are slightly bruised on the edges by shaking. The bruised tea leaves expose the enzymes inside the leaves, to the atmospheric oxygen. This step begins the process of oxidation and is, therefore, a significant step in the manufacturing of commercial-grade tea leaves.
The tea leaves are then finally transferred to the CTC machine, which does further processing in the tea leaves. The machine crushes, tears and curls the tea leaves altogether. The tea leaves are rolled into hard pellets of CTC leaves. This is the most crucial step in the production of CTC tea leaves.
The cut done with the machine determines the appearance, grade, liquor infusion quality and the fibre percentage. It determines the overall quality of the CTC leaves produced.
The leaves are turned into controlled rooms where the leaves turn progressively darker. Oxidation is a chemical reaction which occurs in the presence of oxygen. This step enables the formation of essential compounds at a molecular level. The tannins react to the oxygen in the atmosphere and get the desired level of oxygen contents.
The CTC tea leaves are dried, which brings down the oxygen levels to below 3%, which stops all enzyme activities and stabilize the oxygen level to the desired percentage. This step is essential for commercial purposes because, without proper drying, tea leaves will be left with reduced shelf life and prone to corrosion.
Most industries use air heaters and big fans for drying. The tea leaves are exposed to heat and air, which reduces the water percentage to an acceptable level.
With the process of drying complete, the commercial production of CTC tea leaves is over. Tea leaves are then mandatorily separated into categories and grades. Black tea production gives four significant types of tea leaves depending upon the sizes, namely whole leaf, broken, fannings and dust. Each category is further divided into grades depending upon the size.
Each grade has a specific benefit to offer. Smaller grades tend to have more potent liquor and faster infusion properties. In contrast, grades with comparatively larger pellet size have a better aroma and thicker liquor inducing qualities.
Therefore blending becomes necessary for a commercial tea seller. CTC tea industries focus upon the blend they desire to sell. A proper blend will be a mixture of grades of smaller dimensions as well as grades of bigger sizes. Each grade will offer something to the blend to give it a complete finalized product with both quality liquor and faster infusion, all packet with the irresistible aroma.
No wonder, companies are willing to spend a significant part of their profit into creating a proper blend. So, when you purchase your favorite tea belonging to a company, you are not just paying for the product; it is the blend that you are purchasing.
What Is A CTC Blend?
The grades of CTC tea leaves are very specialized with liquor extraction quality, flavor and aroma. Some grades are rich in flavor and aroma, while others give quicker infusion and faster extraction qualities. So, it is vital to balance the flavor and the liquor present in a tea leaf.
This is essentially the reason firms manufacturing CTC tea packets strictly stick to a blend. A proper blend is an essential part of tea manufacturers. The goal is to create a blend which will offer you the appropriate balance between flavor and liquor extracted.
If you are into a tea start-up, then you know why blending is such a big thing. You are expected to come up with your blend. There is no secret for this; you are what gives a mix its value. Trust your senses, come up with experimentation, and you can make one for yourself! Your blend decides the price of your brand. As simple as that. It is the basis of the tea industry.
Different Grades Of CTC Tea Leaves
Tea leaves are broadly classified into four grades, while manufacturing, depending upon the sizes of the leaves. Namely, these four categories are Whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings and dust. In the production of CTC tea leaves, however, only the latter three can be produced.
Each of the grades produced using the CTC method can be further classified into subgrades depending upon the size of the pellets.
CTC Broken – Broken Pekoe one (BP1), Broken Pekoe two (BP2) and Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP).
Fannings – CTC Pekoe Fannings one (PF1) and CTC Pekoe Fannings two (PF2).
Dust – Pekoe Dust (PD) and Dust (D).
CTC tea leaves are roughly classified into these grades. Each grade has a unique ability which it can contribute in the blend.
Advantages Of CTC Tea Leaves
I. The production is more comfortable and faster. The production of CTC tea leaves is made simple and efficient with the development of the machines. Tea leaves are processed and manufactured much quicker and efficiently because of the CTC method.
II. Utilization of all sizes of leaves. The process of CTC tea leaves production is not very dependent upon the size and texture of the tea leaves used. Most kinds of tea leaves can be used irrespective of the size and blended to form a homogenized mixture of CTC tea leaves. With maximized utilization of the tea leaves, production rates get much higher, which helps in meeting the huge demand.
III. CTC tea leaves are affordable. With the increased production of the CTC tea leaves, prices usually are much lower. The production process too, is simplified and less worker intensive. Therefore CTC tea leaves are easily very affordable.
IV. CTC tea leaves can be used for all purposes. Be it your milk tea, or your favorite cup of ice tea, or definitely a cup of red tea and even as a teabag, CTC tea suits every purpose! You can make your favorite cup of tea, customize it with your whims, and still awe at the fact of how beautiful it is! There’s a grade of CTC tea which suits your specific need.
V. Varieties of grades to choose from. CTC tea comes with a variety of grades. Each grade of these leaves come with a unique ability. You choose your grade according to the type of drink you want to brew. For instance, teabags prefer the dust grade over other CTC grades. Not to worry, CTC tea leaves will always get your back, even for your customized teabag!
VI. CTC tea leaves are much easier to store and transport. CTC tea leaves have enhanced shelf life because of already high oxidation level. This makes CTC tea leaves easier to keep for a longer duration. Transportation becomes more manageable, as well. These tea leaves are less prone to corrosion due to strong odor and humidity.
In short, you can use CTC tea leaves for serving a variety of purposes depending upon your mood.