‘CTC’ stands for ‘Crush, Tear, Curl’ and it is a method of processing black tea. In this process, the black tea leaves go through cylindrical rollers that have thousands of sharp teeth which do what the process is called – crush, tear, and curl the tea leaves. At the end of this journey through the rollers, the tea leaves are transformed into tiny hard tea pellets – which is called the CTC tea. The CTC tea is sometimes also called the Mamri Tea. The CTC process is an alternative to the traditional orthodox processing in which the tea leaves remain intact and just get rolled, not crushed or torn. The CTC process is cost-effective and yields more consistent results compared to orthodox processing, making it a very common process in the tea world. CTC played a major role in making tea more affordable for the masses and today, a large part of tea consumption, especially in India is CTC tea. All over the world, a large chunk of black tea getting sold is CTC tea. IF you have black tea teabags at home, they likely contain the CTC tea.
Origin of the CTC Tea
The CTC process is said to have been invented by Sir William McKercher in Assam, India. The first CTC machine was brought into service in 1930 at the Amgoorie Tea Garden in Assam, supervised by Sir McKercher. In the next two decades, the CTC process spread through India and Africa, especially in the then British colonies. CTC tea became immensely popular because of its cost efficiency which made tea affordable for everybody, while also giving the tea a strong characteristic flavor and quicker to infuse. The process also made tea suitable for teabags.
What is CTC tea like?
CTC tea has a consistent flavor profile. It will have a deep color with a rich, slightly bitter flavor. CTC tea is commonly used to make the Masala Chai or the ‘Chai’ made with milk, tea, spices, and sugar. It is also a common part of English breakfast tea, Irish breakfast tea, Afternoon tea, etc. The tea is highly oxidized giving the tea its strong flavor profile while making it lose the subtle flavors. If you’ve ever tasted orthodox black tea, then compared to that, CTC tea will be darker, deeper, stronger, and maltier. It will have an earthier tone. It usually lacks the depth and nuances of an orthodox tea and its consistent flavor makes it great for mass production. It stands up well to milk and spices.
Is CTC tea always black tea?
Yes. Always. The CTC process is designed to ensure thorough oxidation of the tea leaves, so it is always black tea. Other types of tea cannot be CTC processed as it would completely change the quality and recipe of the tea.
How is quality ensured in CTC tea?
The CTC process is almost completely mechanized and requires minimal human intervention. The main point of quality control in the process would be the quality of the tea leaves. While the machines ensure that the flavors contributed by the processing remain consistent across batches, it is essential that the tea leaves fed into the rollers are of the best possible quality to ensure a good quality end product.
How is CTC tea different from orthodox tea?
The crushing and tearing of the tea leaves break the leaves oxidizing the compounds in the tea, giving it the typical CTC tea flavor. Orthodox tea, in contrast, does not go through such harsh processing. CTC black tea would thus have a stronger flavor but compared to orthodox tea it would be flatter and would not have any depth or nuances in the flavor. The former would also be deeper and earthier. Compared to orthodox tea, CTC tea would stand up better to milk and sugar.
What are the different steps in the CTC processing of tea?
CTC processing of tea leaves has the following steps:
- Withering of the harvested leaves
- Green leaf shifting
- Grading and Sorting
What happens to the tea during the CTC process?
Like I mentioned before, CTC stands for Crush, Tear, Curl. Plucked tea leaves go into the CTC machine and pass through rollers with thousands of small, jagged teeth that brush the leaves, crush, and tear them. As the leaves tear up, the cell walls of the plant cells in the leaves break down, firing up oxidation of the compounds in the tea leaves takes place, generating new compounds and deeper flavors. Once, the tea leaves come out crushed and torn, they are curled and pressed into the small pellets and then cured at high heat to form the final CTC tea.
Chemically, the CTC process increases the amount of theaflavins and thearubigins in the tea, as compared to the catechins. Theaflavins and thearubigins are pigments – polymeric polyphenols that are formed from the catechins present in tea. The chlorophyll in the tea leaves gets converted to pheophytins and pheophorbides during the CTC process, giving the final CTC tea a coppery brown color and a range of new volatile compounds in the tea.
What are the different grades of CTC tea?
CTC tea has three main categories:
- CTC Broken Leaf
- CTC Fanning
- CTC Dust
Each of these categories has specific grades of CTC tea, as below:
CTC Broken Leaf:
- Flowery Pekoe
- Broken Pekoe Souchong
- Broken Orange Pekoe Large
- Broken Orange Pekoe
- Broken Orange Pekoe Small
- Broken Pekoe
- Broken Pekoe Small
- Orange Fannings
- Pekoe Fannings
- Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings
- Pekoe Dust
- Churamani Dust
- Golden Pekoe
- Super Red Dust
- Fine Dust
- Super Fine Dust
CTC tea makes things easier for everyone involved. The producer/processor have to feed in the leaves and will get processed tea that is consistent across batches ensuring quality and uniformity. The seller will find it easier to pack the tea into packets and tea bags. They will also find it easier to blend the CTC tea, compared to orthodox tea. The consumer gets a tea with consistent quality that is cheaper and has a uniform flavor cup after cup, month after month. CTC tea also occupies a lesser volume compared to orthodox tea and has a longer shelf life. The CTC process, after all, has played a major role in the spread of tea consumption across the Indian subcontinent and Africa.
Overall, a win-win for everyone, right?
What do you think of CTC tea? Do you prefer orthodox tea or CTC tea? Tell me what you think in the comments or find me on Instagram – @banjaranfoodie.
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