In 2009, we introduced Allegro Tea and began sourcing our own tea. Like coffee, we buy tea from all over the world and have worked to ensure your tea is the best quality we can find, and where it comes from matches our values in treating people fairly and continually working towards a better product.
There are many steps in getting that perfectly steeped cup of tea. But unlike coffee, the farmers do all of the processing where the tea is grown. The different processing methods are what create different types of tea. We will break down tea farming, the differences in processing, and what makes our sourcing practices stand out to give you a better cup and our farmers better partnerships.
We source a lot of tea and herbal botanicals from China and Japan. But, we also buy tea from India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Rwanda, Egypt, and even the U.S. northwest (some of the best peppermint comes from there). Our sourcing practices model our coffee practices. We are committed to traceability and visit each farm we buy from, creating relationships with our suppliers.
We work with tea gardens of all sizes, there are a lot of small farmers in our China supply chain but outside of China, it’s mostly large gardens and estates. No matter the size, it’s important that we find partners who share our values, who treat and pay their pickers fairly.
Tea grows on a bush and produces leaves that farmers pick (or “pluck”). Once planted, the bush will take 2-3 years to begin producing leaves that are ready to pick. The harvest season begins around March/April (in the northern hemisphere), right after the cold season. Farmers pick the top two leaves and bud, which becomes the tea that we drink. These bushes produce many rounds of leaves each season, also known as “flushes”. At the beginning of the harvesting season, the first leaves the farmers pick tend to be the sweetest. They use these leaves typically for white and green tea. Later in the season, the farmers pick leaves they use for black tea and oolong. These teas do not need the natural sweetness in the leaf.
There are five steps in processing tea, withering, firing, rolling, oxidation, and sorting. Each step is a little different for each kind of tea.
Once they pluck the tea, farmers lay it on the ground to wilt. Leaves that become green tea sit for 6-8 hours, leaves that becomes black or oolong sit for longer (12-16 hours). This step brings the moisture to the surface of the leaves, making it almost spongy, so it doesn’t tear in the next steps.
Leaves that become green tea are then fired by the farmers (black and oolong go right to rolling and firing happens later). The fire the leaves in one of two ways, steaming or pan firing. This step halts the withering process and makes the leaf mailable, ready to be rolled. Black and oolong are both pan fired. But it occurs later.
This step is exactly what it sounds like. The farmers roll the tea leaves, either by hand or machine. The different ways they roll the tea determines the type of tea.
Farmers oxidize black and oolong tea after rolling it but before firing it. Green tea skips this step. The tea sits in a pile and oxidizes with the air. The length of time the tea sits also impacts the flavor. Oolong is usually oxidizes for a shorter time than black tea.
After each kind of tea goes through its respective process, processors then sort it by size. It’s important to sort tea into groups of similar size so that when steeped, they brew at the same rate. If you’re baking and you put a tiny piece of dough on the same sheet as a giant piece of dough, the tiny one will burn before the giant one is done cooking. You want all of your dough to be the same size so they bake at the same rate. The same concept applies to tea, and coffee too.
There are several steps and it’s different for each type of tea. Here is a quick guide to each tea and the process it goes through:
White – Plucked, dried, sorted.
Green – Plucked, withered, fired, rolled, sorted.
Black & Oolong – Plucked, withered, rolled, oxidized, fired, sorted.
A Better Cup
While China and Japan are the largest producers of tea, people in these countries are also the largest consumer group of their tea. Only 20% of the tea produced in these countries is exported to other countries. Of the remaining tea, it is difficult to find specialty tea, partially because the producing countries consume most of it themselves, but also because there is no clear dividing line between specialty and commercial tea.
Coffee has a universal grading scale that allows people all over the world to compare their coffee to the same scale, but it’s not the same with tea. Each country has different ways of determining quality, which can make it hard to classify specialty tea.
We take many steps to make sure the tea we source is high quality. To start, we only buy Certified Organic tea. The work and organization that goes into organic farming practices helps deliver a better quality product to start with.
We’ve also created incentives for many of our partners to increase the quality of their tea by paying premiums for additional certifications like Fair Trade Certified or Rainforest Alliance Certified. These premiums go into social projects that help the communities. And, it also helps build our relationship with our farmers and helps them reinvest in their farms, which results in better quality tea.
Another important step in our quality process is tasting. We taste the teas before the producers ship it to us, after it arrives, before we blend it, and after we package it into a finished product. During these tastings, we make sure the quality of the tea is up to our standards as well as additional food safety standards.
We’ve been sourcing and roasting coffee for over 40 years. When the time came to start sourcing Allegro Tea, we were able to apply years of experience developing strong relationships with our farms and become very involved with our tea partners early on. At the time, this was not a common practice. Most tea brands still purchased it as commercial tea in large quantities. Over the past five to ten years we’ve seen more and more companies moving towards a more sustainable sourcing model. We are proud to be leaders in the coffee and tea industry. Whether you’re a tea nerd or a tea novice, with over 40 different teas, we have one for you.