Tea Processing in Malaysia

Tea Processing in Malaysia
The Cameron Highlands are famous for production of tea in Malaysia. The effects of British colonization can still be seen here in the country inns, Tudor type buildings and panelled walls. The green valleys are also home to many rare floral species besides the vast tea gardens. The climate of the Cameron Highlands remains constant through the year and is perfect for tea plantation. The temperature in the Highlands are between 15° to 20° Celsius always. Rainfall received in the region is abundant and the sunshine is ample for the tea leaves to grow. The acidic level of soil is between pH 4 to pH 5.5 making it perfect for the Camellia sinensis to thrive.

The first person who thought of having a tea plantation was a businessman by the name J.A. Russell in 1929. His company’s plantations by the name of BOH dominate Malaysia in production of tea. Here is how tea is processed in Malaysia.

Plucking is done on the Camellia sinensis only once the plants grow for two years after it has been planted. Once mature plucking takes place every three. After the plucking the quality of the leaves are checked and then they are weighed. After plucking there are five more stages that the tea leaves go through and every stage enhances their aroma and taste.

Withering removes the water content from the leaves. The process usually takes about 15-20 hours and is usually done at night. Withering allows natural chemical reactions to take place in the tea leaves.

Rolling :
Once the withering process is complete the leaves are then sent for the next stage where they are rolled and crushed with the help of machines. After rolling the tea leaves get a smaller shape.

Fermentation :
One of the most important processes is the fermentation of the tea leaves. When the crushed tea leaves are exposed to oxygen a chemical reaction takes place naturally which enables the crushed tea leaves to get their colour, fragrance and flavour. Fermentation is often referred to as oxidation. The temperature and timing are both carefully regulated. The green leaves are spread on trays which are then put through this process. Once the process is complete the leaves get a copper colour. The whole process takes about 3 hours.

The fermented leaves are then put into machines for drying. Using hot air with a temperature of about 100° to 120° Celsius the leaves are dried. Drying stops the process of fermentation in the leaves and further reduces the content of moisture to about 3%. It also crystallizes its juices as a result the leaf becomes black and crisp. The process of drying takes about 20 minutes. Huge furnaces produce this hot air that are fuelled with woods from rubber tress.

Although the process of making tea is completed in the above steps, sorting cannot be left out as it is in this process that the quality and grade of the tea is decided. The dried tea is passed through many sieves that are machine vibrated and sorted according to their size. The fibre and stalks if any are removed. Different grades of tea have different flavour, density, taste and characteristics.

There are usually four grades, the Whole or full leaf, the Small or broken leaf, Fannings and Dust. The Whole and Small leaf grades are of the top quality and look golden or honey in colour and sweet to drink. Fannings and Dust are dark and bear strong taste. Fannings are usually processed more so they become Dusts which are then sold in tea bags.