Photos: How Tea Was Picked and Processed in the Late 19th Century

After they were plucked from the plant, leaves were withered and dried to remove moisture and then sorted, graded, weighed, and packed.

TeaProcess-Post.jpg

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. 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.

After the leaves for black tea have been fully oxidized, they are dried to remove excess moisture. 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. Finally, the tea leaves are weighed and packed.


This post also appears on the Smithsonian Collections Blog, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Rose Love Chou lives in the Washington, D.C., area and works as a reference archivist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Anthropological Archives.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Health

Just In