How Black tea is made in the US

Black tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world. And over the decades American tea drinking habits have changed widely depending on the trade relations we had at any given time. Now though, Americans no longer have to rely on trade relations with other countries as more and more tea is grown and processed in the US. 

A great deal of investment is involved in the tea growing business but once established and if you can develop a quality tea, the market for tea is huge. 84 billions servings of tea were consumed by Americans in 2019*. The majority of tea that is consumed is Black tea. In fact world wide, Black tea is one of the most popular teas.

So just how is Black tea made then?

Black tea is made with a series of steps. It includes harvesting, withering, rolling, proofing and drying. We will review each of these steps below. At the end of this blog you can also watch our video on the full process.

First step is to harvest the tea leaves.

First and most importantly you need a tea bush to harvest the new leaf growth from. You can start harvesting young tea plants at 3 years of age but they truly come into full production at 5 years. 

So step one is harvesting your tea leaves. This can be done with hand plucking or using a Harvester machine. At our farm we use the Harvester machine. 

Harvested tea leaves


Second step is to wither the tea.

Withering is done back in our Tea Shack (our tea processing facility). Once a tea leaf is harvested it will naturally start to wither. When we take the leaf back to the Tea Shack we control the temperature and humidity at which the leaf withers. This is done to start the process of developing its flavor and aroma. 

Tea on withering rack.

(Tea withering on the withering rack)

Our 3rd step is to roll the tea.

When you roll the tea you are damaging the leaf to start releasing the enzymes. The damage releases some of the moisture. This is another step in the development of the teas aroma.

Rolling Black Tea

(Going through the damaged leaf looking for knots in the tea before putting it back into the roller)

Rolling can also be done by hand but when you process as much tea as we do, a rolling machine is a must. In fact, we have two rolling machines. We also, have a smaller one that we started out with.

Hand rolled tea

(Hand rolled tea)

Our 4th step is proofing.

We place the tea leaves onto trays evenly and spray with some additional moisture. Then it is put into our proofing machine. In this step we are oxidizing. We keep the humidity between 85% and 100%. The temperature at 100 degrees. This process is what gives the leaves their nice brown color.

Our 5th and final step is the dryer.

This is the magic step where the tea emerges in the beautiful twisted Black leaf that we all know and love. At this stage, the drying process caramelizes any of the sugars, further adding to the flavor of the tea.

Black Tea

(Black tea before it is placed into the drying machine)

How is the US different at growing Black tea?

  • In the USA food manufacturing is highly regulated. So one of the key differences is the food safety standards that tea producers in the US must abide by.
  • US labor costs can be hard to compete with overseas tea processors much of the tea is hand plucked overseas but wages are often no where near what an American worker would be paid. 
  • In an effort to work with higher labor costs we have invested in equipment that removes the need for manual work. This makes harvesting tea much faster, reducing the hours spent on plucking by hand. What would take 8 hours for a few people, takes 10 minutes for 2.
  • Every landscape provides different complexities at the same time that landscape can change a teas flavor ever so slightly. This means a tea in Japan may not taste the same as the US. It will distinctly be a black tea but your flavor notes may vary.

What does our American Grown Black Tea taste like?

Keep in mind not all American grown Black teas will taste like ours. The terrain changes at every farm and this can modify the flavor of a tea. Also, how it is processed can also greatly impact the flavor of a tea. 

Out Black tea, Black Magnolia has flavor notes of sweet potato, molasses and malt. It has even won awards for it flavor. 

But don't take our word for it, try it yourself. Shop it here

Can you make iced tea with your Black Magnolia, Black tea?

Yes! That is often exactly how it is served at our house. We always have a large jug of Black Magnolia, Black Tea in our fridge for when we get thirsty. We also have a great recipe for making true Southern Sweet Tea with our Black Magnolia tea. See the recipe here.

Want to learn more? Watch our full YouTube video on how Black tea is made in the USA.


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