Before diving into CTC vs Orthodox Black Tea, you should keep in mind that the CTC and the Orthodox teas are not ‘teas’ in the traditional meaning of the word tea. They are not a tea brand name or a tea type. However, every single tea you know falls under either of the two categories, because they are tea processing and production methods.
Everyone knows that most teas come from the popular tea plant ‘Camellia sinensis’ but one of the major differences between teas as you know it today, apart from climate, harvesting, soil patch, season, tea master’s skill and preference, is the method of production.
CTC uses mechanical help in production while Orthodox tea is prepared traditionally and manually by hand. Just like the name implies, it is Orthodox. This article will focus on black tea because that’s the only type of tea that both orthodox and CTC methods are applied to produce. Green, white and Oolong tea types are too delicate and hands-on for the CTC to produce.
Table of Contents
WHAT IS ORTHODOX TEA ?
Orthodox tea is the type of tea that was made in a traditional way as we know it; harvesting, withering, oxidation, drying, and other processes that come with making a traditional loose whole leaf tea. Like many tea enthusiasts know, many tea types are prepared traditionally, like green tea, white tea, Oolong tea, and black tea. But for the sake of the CTC, we will only focus on black tea. Orthodox tea requires the tea master’s constant attention and skills. This method is more time consuming but the end results are always worth it.
WHAT IS CTC TEA ?
CTC actually means ‘crush, tear, curl’ and sometimes, it’s also referred to as ‘cut, tear, curl’. In this process, there’s an industrial machine with a series of cylindrical rollers with hundreds of serrated teeth that are used to crush, tear and then curl the black tea leaves that run through them.
While orthodox tea produces loose whole tea leaves, CTC produces small, hard, even shaped pellets of tea leaves curled into strips by the machine.
PREPARATION TECHNIQUE OF ORTHODOX TEA
Orthodox tea production is processed by hand in order to get the loose whole leaves orthodox teas are known for. This method requires the tea master to follow set rules and guidelines from planting, growing, harvesting the tea leaves, withering, twisting, and rolling if he intends to achieve a desired taste and flavor. Skill, care, and sometimes speed is needed in the orthodox method.
There are five methods in the orthodox technique;
- Harvesting; the best quality teas are handpicked with some skill. There are specific parts of the tea plant that are most preferred and needed for tea production; the newest unfurled parts of the leaves and the youngest buds. The twigs are sometimes also harvested with the young buds and leaves.
- Withering; the leaves are spread out in the open to wither and lose half of their water content. They are mostly withered under sunlight but some tea masters also prefer to do some indoor withering thereafter.
- Rolling; after withering, the leaves are rolled into shapes with hands. Shapes can sometimes alter the flavor of the teas. The tea masters are usually skilled in knowing what shape to roll and twist the leaves into to give them their preferred flavor. The most common shape of black tea is long and cylindrical.
- Oxidation; the tea leaves are allowed to oxidize by coming in contact with air. Black tea leaves oxidize completely and the leaves turn dark brown. Black teas are different from other teas because of their complete oxidation state that determines the color, flavor, and taste of the end product.
- Drying; the oxidized leaves are passed through a drier or air-dried to stop the oxidation and processing of the leaves. For other tea types like green tea or Oolong tea, this needs to be done carefully and quickly by the tea master to prevent complete oxidation from taking place. But for the black tea leaves, care is still needed but not so much for speed as the leaves are already fully oxidized.
That is how an orthodox tea is produced; the loose whole leaves flourish when they are brewed because of the care and attention paid to every single one of them.
PREPARATION TECHNIQUE OF CTC TEA
The CTC machine has two big rollers that have hundreds of sharply serrated blades that roll and operate in opposite directions in such a way that they mesh and join into each other with the serrated blades. When the tea leaves are passed through them, the blades cut them and tear them into pieces and then curl or compress them into small evenly shaped pellets of tea leaves. The end products are evenly shaped balls of brown tea leaves. This machine can work for long hours, processing tea leaves. It is not as time-consuming as the orthodox method and doesn’t require the skill of a tea master.
The CTC is a commercial method of tea production. The producers realize higher yields of tea and it’s very efficiently bagged, as the balls of teas are gravitated to bags by the CTC machine. The CTC is faster, more commercial and the tea leaves have been described as robust and full-bodied even though they generally have lesser quality than orthodox tea.
FLAVOR PROFILE OF ORTHODOX TEA VS THE CTC TEA
Orthodox teas have more distinctive and authentic flavors. The flavors are a direct reflection of the specific way they were processed and brewed. The orthodox black tea will give a range of distinctive flavor and taste ranging from earthy, malty, honeyed, roasted, spicy, nutty, metallic, citrusy, leathery and fruity depending on the tea master and the way it was brewed. Some black teas could also have a bitter undertone. The brewed tea color ranges from amber and red to dark brown.
Other types of orthodox teas have their own distinctive color, taste, and unique flavors too.
CTC teas, on the other hand, have a more generic taste and flavor compared to an Orthodox’s distinctive one. They have an astringent and strong flavor, and always produce a dark generic brew. The CTC is commercially produced to accommodate sweeteners like honey or sugar and milk. This is why some consumers prefer their teas like Chai tea to be made with CTC tea.
POPULARITY OF ORTHODOX TEA VS THE CTC TEA
The whole loosed leaves of orthodox teas are very popular and highly demanded and consumed within the tea community. They are highly sorted after by people who crave their distinctive taste and flavor, and by people who want to harness the health benefit, the whole tea leaves have to offer, which is much more than their crushed and torn tea leaves counterpart. Orthodox black teas are mostly premium because of the time and attention paid to every single loose tea leaf. They are popular in the regions where they are produced like China, Japan, and other Asian countries that have a high demand for it. It’s also popular in Europe and some parts of North and South America.
On the other hand, the sole intent of CTC production is for mass commercial production. This is the main reason CTC is a major contender with orthodox tea in popularity. The fast rate and low manpower requirement needed for the processing and bagging procedure makes it possible for this tea type to be distributed around the globe to meet global demand for tea.
PRICE OF ORTHODOX TEA VS THE CTC TEA
The orthodox black tea is generally more expensive than the CTC because of the long hours needed for processing it and the high manpower skill required to make it. The unique and distinctive flavor and taste it gives makes it more premium than the CTC.
It’s also not commercially discounted like the CTC and because of the long hours that go into processing it, orthodox tea is not available for the general market. There are orthodox black teas that cost thousands of dollars ranging from $1000 – $5000 for the very expensive and premium brands that are generally made for the tea elites of the society. However there are orthodox tea brands that are generally more affordable, ranging from $15 – $100.
Unlike the orthodox black tea, CTC teas are made commercially to be available for everyone. And like most other commercially produced commodities, they are made cheaper than their orthodox counterparts. They are sometimes blended with other lower quality black tea leaves to make it more affordable. This is what gives the CTC a blended, robust, and full-bodied taste and flavor. The CTC has two main types, the teabag of pellet tea balls and the bag of tea dust.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN ORTHODOX TEA AND CTC TEAS
- Both tea leaves are gotten from the same tea plant ‘Camellia sinensis’
- They both have antioxidants that are responsible for the health benefits that come with teas. These include improving brain function, lowering the risk of heart conditions, promoting fat loss, protecting against certain kinds of cancer, and several other benefits.
- Both teas offer a refreshing and vitalizing brew to consumers.
- Their tea leaves both get curled at a point during their processing.
Most times, most people simply walk into a store to get a box of tea. There’s simply no recourse to where the tea comes from or how it is made. I’m sure this post has provided an amazing insight into the ways your favorite black tea is made.