A new tea-plant must grow for five years before its leaves can be picked and, at 30 years of age, it will be too old to be productive. The trunk of the old plant must then be cut off to force new stems to grow out of the roots in the coming year. By repeated rehabilitation in this way, a plant may serve for around 100 years.
In ancient China, picking tea leaves was a common activity in the farm. There were great numbers of poems written about it.
Tea picking is carried out by hand, usually by groups of women. Their agile fingers pick only the bud and first two leaves of each shoot and place them in a basket slung behind their backs. The women often sing as they work to help them sustain a rhythm as they move along the rows of tea bushes. The tea leaves are processed after plucking and sorted into categories based on fermentations and other processing treatments.
In China men, women and children are employed for picking tea, and three crops are gathered in favorable seasons, with occasionally a fourth picking. Under the stimulus of East Indian heat and moisture, the “flushes,” or new growth of shoots, buds and leaves, are renewed as often as once in a week or ten days; so that during a season of nine months, from a dozen, to a maximum of thirty pickings are made. The same conditions apply to the tea plantations of Java. After ten or twelve years the bushes decline in vigor from the strain of constant loss of young growth, and are replaced by new plants. Thirty pounds of green leaves are an average day’s work for women and children.
The season of tea-picking depends on the local climate and therefore varies from area to area. A skilled picker can only gather 600 grams (a little over a pound) of green tea leaves in a day.
People Who are Picking Tea Leaves in the Shaded Field are Careful to:
- Make sure the tree belongs to the shaded area
- Start picking at the bottom and move upward to end at the top
- Pick only the top three leaves leaving a small leaf just below them
- Remove it if they have picked it
- Watch out for old leaves and other foreign substance which may find their way into their basket. Throw them away on finding them.
- Put no pressure on the leaves in the basket
- Start processing promptly
For the processes of ginding, parching, rolling, shaping and drying into other grades of tea, various machines have been developed and implemented, turning out approximatly 100 kilograms of finished tea an hour and relieving the workers from much of their drudgery.
Tea Sorting, Grading and Packing
Tea sorting machines are used to sort out various types of tea leaves, so that they can be graded and blended according to their quality.
Tea sorting machines use compressed for its sorting process. The compressed air is able to sift out big leaves from the small and so on. And like so many other processes, moisture is the main barrier to the smooth process of sorting. It is best to ensure that the compressed air is clean and dry before it is fed into the sorting machines.
Process of Tea Packing
The first step in packaging tea is grading it by particle size, shape, and cleanliness. This is carried out on mechanical sieves or sifters fitted with meshes of appropriate size. With small-sized teas in demand, some processed teas are broken or cut again at this stage to get a higher proportion of broken grades.
Teas are packed in airtight containers in order to prevent absorption of moisture, which is the principal cause of loss of flavour during storage. Packing chests are usually constructed of plywood, lined with aluminum foil and paper, and sealed with the same material. Also used are corrugated cardboard boxes lined with aluminum foil and paper or paper sacks lined with plastic.
Blended teas are sold to consumers as loose tea, which is packed in corrugated paper cartons lined with aluminum foil, in metal tins, and in fancy packs such as metallized plastic sachets, or they are sold in tea bags made of special porous paper. Tea bags are mainly packed with broken-grade teas.
The job of picking tea leaves is best suited to young girls with dexterity as great care must be exercised in the way the leaves are plucked.