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K S said

Black tea and CTC

Can someone clue me in on why most black tea from India and Sri Lanka are CTC and not whole leaf? CTC does not in itself mean poor quality but when I get Chinese black teas they seem to be whole leaf. Why the difference?

9 Replies

I think it’s all about getting the most tea into their shipping vessels. CTC leaves take up a lot less space than full leaf, and if they’re wanting to get the most tea out as possible in the least amount of space, CTC processing would make the most sense. Its’s the same with Kenyan tea, it’s CTC to get the most tea out using the least amount of space.

hopefully that made some sense, I’ve been awake since 2am, and it’s 11 now O.o

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ashmanra said

I will check my Harney book. I think it had something to do with the British wanting to process their tea rapidly and uniformly when they started sourcing almost exclusively from Indian plantations, mostly controlled by them. The machines were developed by Brits for these Indian teas and are still pretty much the same as they were in the beginning. When they were buying frm the Chinese, the Chinese did all the processing and handling. So really it was for speed and economy.

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I think ashmanra is correct. Unlike China and Japan, tea was only brought to India, Ceylon and East Africa in the 1800s, for export growing on English owned estates, and except for India, which was first, they didn’t develop a tradition of in country tea drinking or for that matter (except India) as many fine tea estates. Still today, tea is primarily commercial crop for export and that means CTC for middling quality bags. If I’m not mistaken, most of the tea production in Sri Lanka was nationalized some years ago and is run by the State under a tea board. Small quality Independent growers are severely limited as to the size of their tea plots.

I was in East Africa recently and found similarly that although Tanzania and Kenya grow really excellent coffee, almost all of it is exported and in-country most people drink powdered mixed in boiling water, even in the better hotels and lodges.

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You piqued my curiosity, KS. Here’s the official website of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, http://www.pureceylontea.com/ which has a detailed and fascinating history of tea in Sri Lanka. It turns out that then Ceylon only began growing tea in the 1880’s after the collapse of coffee growing there. And it changed considerably after independence and then again later when a Socialist Government came into power and nationalized foreign estates. It was in the 1980s that the government went heavily into producing CTC tea for tea bags.

K S said

Thanks for the link. I hope to have time to look it over tomorrow. In the meantime I will add CTC was invented in 1930-31. It is a fairly new production method. When I find a new job I really need to order some whole leaf assam and ceylons from Upton and see how different and complex they are from the CTC versions. The more I learn about tea the less I know. Realizing it just makes me want to learn more.

ashmanra said

So true, K S.

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I believe that CTC produces a much darker, stronger brew in a comparative short period which was to the English taste. It produces a generic ‘tea’ flavour rather than the variances in the different estates and regions found in the whole leaf and made blending – not to mention adulturating – teas easier because of the uniform size of the pellets.

Assam tea seems to be almost entirely CTC, even when purchasing relatively upmarket loose-leaf tea from a tea merchant by weight. I have always purchased my Ceylon tea as Orange Pekoe at the very least, so I was dismayed when I opened a tin of East India Company Ceylon tea – a supposed upmarket brand – to find that it was CTC.

You should be easily able to find Assam in larger pieces than CTC. It won’t be full leaf but then I don’t think Assam, Ceylon or Darjeelings are ever full leaf, just large pieces. They also are not usually steeped more than once like Chinese & Taiwanese Oolongs.

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K S said

I have been trying to research this a lot more but info is hard to track down. I did read that tea is produced in two ways orthodox and CTC.

CTC seems to grind the tea to mush then reform it into dust sized pellets. This gives it a quick brisk infusion at the expense of depth. Of course it is cheap so that is how most black tea is produced.

Orthodox can be hand rolled unbroken leaf or machine rolled broken pieces using a rotovane machine. Again its hard to get a clear understanding from Googling this but I think the difference between rotovane and CTC is the tiny leaf pieces with rotovane stay intact and are not reassembled into pellets. This method leaves much of the depth intact. I think this is what most of us get with our loose leaf assam and darjeeling.

Anyway CTC seems to be about the $$ generally without regard for quality. I may be wrong but I think when I defend what I think is a loose leaf CTC tea I may actually be defending a rotovane tea.

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