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Monday, April 11, 2011

Processing Tea

Did you know that tea is the second-most consumed beverage in the world? I've always been intrigued by the intensive process it takes to transform the plant into the dried leaves used for brewing. Here are some photos from the National Anthropological Archives that document different stages in the traditional processing of black tea. These photos were taken in India during the late 19th century by Colin Murray of the photography studio Bourne & Shepherd.

First, tea leaves are plucked from the Camellia sinensis plant. [Assamese Women in Costume, Picking Tea Leaves NAA INV 04423401] The leaves are then withered to reduce water content and rolled to start oxidation. Oxidation is the chemical process where oxygen is absorbed, and the leaves’ oxidation level determines the type of tea it becomes. Black tea is fully oxidized, oolong tea is partially oxidized, and green and white tea are not oxidized. [Assamese Tea Withering Room NAA INV 04423201] After the leaves for black tea have been fully oxidized, they are dried to remove excess moisture. [Gibbs & Barry's Tea Dryer NAA INV 04424001] Black tea leaves are then sorted by size and graded accordingly. If you've ever heard terms such as Orange Pekoe and Flowery Pekoe, they refer to the grade of black tea. [Assamese Women in Costume, Sorting Tea NAA INV 04423202] Finally, the tea leaves are weighed and packed.[Assamese Men in Costume, Packing and Weighing Tea NAA INV 04424002]

-Rose Love Chou, Reference Volunteer
National Anthropological Archives

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