Making Tea. In Mississippi.
We're asked all the time how tea is made. Since we’re not farmers ourselves, we like to brush up on tea-making expertise as often as we can. Having a hands-on experience helps us better educate our customers on the different types of teas, how it’s made and why it costs what it does.
It's isn't always easy to travel to a post-conflict country, so we took a road trip.
We spent time this week with Jason McDonald and Timothy Gipson, owners of the only commercially viable tea estate in the U.S. – The Great Mississippi Tea Company. We learned a lot over two days and exhausted ourselves plucking and hand-rolling tea.
With so many tea sellers, we hope you appreciate our commitment to the art and craft of what makes good tea. Most importantly, we hope you appreciate – as we do – the hard work that goes into making your tea by our suppliers in Nepal, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Laos, Colombia and Ethiopia. They do this every day.
We began by plucking tea early. That's Rakkasan Tea Company CEO Brandon Friedman on the left (above). RTC chief operating officer and former Green Beret Terrence "TK" Kamauf is on the right.
Above, TK receives the finer points on hand-plucking from Timothy Gipson of The Great Mississippi Tea Company. After an hour, we see on the right that it was clear who'd been doing this a while and who hadn't. Timothy's mesh sack is on the left. He's skilled and his sack is about 1/3 full. On the right is a rookie's sack. It . . . is not.
After plucking fresh leaves, we headed to the tea processing shack. The image on the right shows the result of four people plucking together for an hour. It's not much at all.
We spread the leaves out on trays to begin the withering process. The purpose here is for the leaves to lose moisture and become softer and more pliable.
Next we rolled the leaves. Rolling breaks down the cell walls of the leaves, kicking off the oxidation process. On the left, Timothy uses a rolling machine to make black tea. For oolong tea, however, we used the traditional technique of hand rolling. That's what you see TK doing on the right. He's really putting his back into it.
The oolong was then subjected to heat and pressure, including repeated pan-firing. Here, Brandon tries not to burn himself while hand-stirring the leaves.
After oxidation, this black tea is now ready for drying. It'll then be a finished product.
Our producers use these techniques along with others they’ve developed over centuries. If you’d like to support them, please consider buying tea today!
If you’d like to learn more about The Great Mississippi Tea Company, click here.