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Hand Processing Tea

All tea in Hawaii is processed by hand. This is a tedious process that used to be done by all tea processors “back in the day”. It’s interesting to think that the most economically developed tea growing region is employing the most primitive processing methods to tea. In time this will change as the industry matures.

I’ve been seeing many people on the internet talk about processing tea at home. It’s a fascinating art and science. While researching the Hawaii Grown Tea industry I was invited to the Mealani Research Station on Hawaii Island. I had the opportunity to harvest tea leaves in the test fields and process green tea in the same day.

Harvesting started by picking the top two leaves and bud of the tea trees. The University has been doing variety trials for over a decade and have many different type of Camellia sinensis plants. It was very relaxing to enjoy the day’s breeze and take our time to pick only the best young leaves.

After harvest we weighed our leaves and prepared them for processing. Because we were making green tea we didn’t have to ferment. Instead we threw all our leaves out on the table and shook them around the loosen any worms or other bugs that may be on the leaves. Then we used the most organic food processing machine to help break the leaves down; a microwave. Funny that a microwave could work so efficiently, but it did. Three or four zaps on high for 30 seconds prepared the leaves for rolling.

We rolled the leaves by putting a large handful of them in a thin piece of cloth. We brought the ends of the cloth together to ball the tea leaves up inside. This ball of leaves is then massaged by the hand over and over and over again. We hand rolled the leaves for about 2 hours, but was told that this process, if done correctly, can take up to 5 hours. There’s a very delicate art to this process. Very skilled processors can roll tea with their bare hands, but we used the cloth to make it easier.

After rolling the broken down leaves were spread on a metal tray that was then placed inside a commercial dehydrator. The dehydrator made the processing room into an oven from all the heat it let out, so we went comfortably to another room. It made me wonder if these types of machines are always used for drying tea leaves, because they seem so wasteful with energy. This is a subject that resonates with me because I designed a solar dryer while a Peace Corps volunteer in the Caribbean that I believe could work for tea leaves. An hour after drying the leaves were ready, and BEAUTIFUL. We were all so proud of our product.

By the afternoon we were pretty tired, so we wanted to try everyone’s tea for a little caffeine boost. My tea was not selected as the best one. I was actually amazed by the different tastes that each of our teas had because the leaves came from the same farm and we used the same process. The difference was in our hand rolling styles.

You can experience some hand-rolled Hawaii Grown Tea on our marketplace now. Bob Jacobson of Hawaii Rainforest Tea is passionate about making amazing Rainforest White Tea. You don’t want to miss it.

Posted by: Elyse @ Tealet     Date: August 24, 2012

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zThis has been tagged with Tea Culture, tea leaves, tea farm,