Scientific American
Volume 91 Number 21 - p 358
NEW YORK, 1904 November 19.



General View of a Tea Plantation in Ceylon.

A Tea Sifting Machine.

Ceylon tea's steady advance in popularity in the United States and Canada calls attention to the strong contrast between the methods of preparation of tea in Ceylon and in China and Japan. In the latter countries the work is done to-day in the same fashion as a century ago, largely by hand. In Ceylon machinery is utilized wherever possible, and the entire process of preparation has become largely mechanical. In both to the extent of the land under cultivation. Teas thus purchased are taken to one of the large cities and placed in factories, where they are often refinished, after which they are graded and mixed with other lots of tea received at market in the same manner.

Planting Tea.

A Tea Plucker.

Preparing the Tea for Rolling.

Packing Tea in Chests.

How the Tea is Sifted.

Tea-Rolling Machinery.

In Ceylon, the system is wholly different. Land has been purchased, and is placed under cultivation to an extent of hundreds of acres at the same time. A factory is constructed and equipped with modern machinery suitable for rolling and firing teas, and affairs, are managed according to European business methods. A superintendent is placed in charge of the estate, with from one to two thousand natives to perform the labor, for the care of whom he is responsible to the government.

The tea seed, having been carefully selected, is sown as soon as possible, as it quickly loses vitality. It is tended, shaded and watered, for the young plant is an object of tender care until it goes through the process of transplantation. When once established, it requires cultivation until three years old, at which time it is plucked, and at the end of the season pruned.

The process of manufacture commences with plucking. The bushes having been pruned and cultivated throw out vigorous fresh growths, and these in turn put forth shoots and leaves called by planters a "flush." The smaller shoots on each side of a flush are what is taken from the plant at each picking. These are described as two leaves and a bud.

Plucking is performed by women, who pass down between the lines of bushes, plucking the young leaves and dropping them into the baskets they carry. Their energies are stimulated by the fact that their daily pay is regulated by the weight of leaf they bring in, and they are checked from plucking old leaf by minus marks being placed against their names for any large leaf found in a basket.

After being weighed in, the leaf is taken to the withering room, usually placed so as to have the heat from the engine room. Here it is spread out in thin layers on the lattice-work shelves with which the room is fitted, to wither or wilt until the excess moisture evaporates. Were this not done, and, were the leaf put through the next stage as it came from the bush, full of moisture and sap, it would be so brittle that it would break into fragments. In the course of the night the leaf is sufficiently withered, and is then soft and flexible, and can be twisted without snapping.

When sufficiently withered, the leaf is passed down waiting chutes to the rolling tables. There are various patterns of machines, but the principle is the same in each, viz., two plane surfaces, revolving one over the other, somewhat after the fashion of millstones, but with a freer swinging action, so as to roll and not grind the leaf. The faces of both the upper and lower tables are of wood, and the leaf is rolled under sufficient pressure to give it the desired twist without breaking it.

The process of rolling having broken open the leaf cells, facilitates the chemical changes which follow, and which are grouped together and termed fermentation by planter^: These changes are very obscure, and have not been subjected to searching chemical" analysis. So far as appearances go, the most important of these is oxidation. The leaf being taken from the rollers is still more green than any other color. At this stage it is spread out, and soon assumes a copperish brown color, due to oxidation.

The fermented leaf is then spread upon trays, and passed into closed machines, of which there are several patterns. But, as in the rollers, the principle is the same in each to fire the tea by exposure to a suitably regulated current of hot air, drawn through the machine by means of fans. This process corresponds with "pan" and basket firing, but the firing in modern factories does not allow the leaf to be subjected to the direct heat of the fire, and the - temperature can be regulated to a nicety to attain the end without destroying the essential qualities of the leaf.

Next is the final stage, the whole process after the leaf is withered occupying less than two hours with modern machinery. Up to this stage all the leaf as brought in by the pluckers has been treated together; but as each of the leaves and the bud represent different qualities and differing values, it is now necessary to separate them. This is done by means of graduated sieves, made to oscillate by means of a pulley.

The "tip" in varying proportions, with some of the leaf nearest to it, makes Orange, or Flowery Pekoe, of proportionately varying values; the small leaf makes Pekoe, with which a small quantity of "tip" remains. The large leaf makes Souchong, and the mixture makes Pekoe Souchong. Broken Orange Pekoe, etc., are simply the broken leaves of their respective qualities, and are preferred by some consumers. In the sorting process some dust and tannings are also separated.

When sufficient tea has been collected to form a "break," it is refired at a low temperature, to get rid of any moisture absorbed from the atmosphere, and packed at once in lead-lined boxes, when it is ready for market.

Successful tea cultivation in Ceylon dates from 1841, on the Rothschild estate. Several specimens of the tea plant were imported from China that year. Successive experiments proved satisfactory, and resulted in the tea produced being pushed in the European markets. In 1877, 2,000 pounds of tea were exported from Ceylon. Now many millions of pounds are exported annually to England alone. Ceylon tea is similar in almost all respects to India tea, and the product of these two countries has practically displaced the teas of China and Japan in England.

Many persons believe that the history of Ceylon tea in England will repeat itself in the United States, but if it does the result will be of far less importance to the tea industry. English people drink tea as the Americans do coffee. In Canada the situation is much the same. In the northern sections of the United States tea is popular, although much less favored than coffee, and here, within the last five years, the Ceylon "greens" or green teas have made considerable headway in the displacement of the green teas of Japan and China, principally the former, for our annual importation of green teas from Japan exceeds 40,000,000 pounds. In the Southern States the relative consumption of tea is small, a fact noticeable in all sections whose climate is of a tropical or semi-tropical nature.

Indirectly, the war between Japan and Russia militates against the teas of the former country, from which our principal supply of green teas comes. Recruiting for the Japanese army has sadly depleted the skilled labor utilized iii the preparation of Japanese teas. The inevitable result of insufficient skilled labor, coupled with an effort to keep the quantity produced from lessening, is a coarsening of the tea leaf, a fact likely to have an ultimate effect on sales in, America, to the benefit of Ceylon teas.

A very large proportion, of Ceylon teas received in the United States comes via England. The teas are shipped in bulk from Ceylon to England, where they are rehandled, blended, and put up in various-sized packages, both for export and home consumption. Some of the Ceylon tea planters favor a direct market In the United States and Canada, and are striving to find means for its establishment.

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