Tea plants prefer a lot of water, good drainage and rich and loamy soil. For this reason the best teas are grown in the mountain slopes. The plants are pruned periodically using hand tools, in order to maintain a picking height of about 1 m (3 ft) and to encourage the growth of new leaves. Low altitude plantations produce leaves for commercial use after about 2 ½ years, and those grown at high altitudes are ready in about 5 years. The best teas are produced at altitudes of 1,000 to 2,200 m (3,000 to 7,000 ft), because tea plants grow more slowly in cooler air and their leaves yield a better, stronger flavor. Some of the "high-grown" teas from Sri Lanka ("Ceylon Tea" ) are considered to be among the finest in the world.
Only the top two leaves and the leaf bud are used for the best of teas. These are hand-picked every week or two as new growth matures, and sent to the factory for processing. Teas made with the top three leaves, (one trade name "Silver Tips") are now selling for more than $15 U.S. per ounce, in the world market.
For economic reasons, all tea producers use more of the new growth, and the price of tea is kept within a reasonable range. For the same reason, more and more tea estates are now using mechanized tea pickers to supplement the manual workers
As the first step in the process of making tea, fresh tea leaves picked during the day are wilted on long moving belts with hot air channeled from the main boiler down stairs in the factory.
The wilted tea leaves are then channeled to these massive grinders and ground to a pulp. The spacing between the grinding discs are carefully set so that the final processed tea leaves are neither too small nor too large.
Wilted and ground tea leaves are then channeled to these hoppers to separate the stems and any unground leaves. The unground leaves are re-routed to grinders and the stems are used in other agricultural products. The selected ground leaves are then loaded into these...