From Leaf to Cup | Equal Exchange
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From Leaf to Cup

Follow the journey of tea from leaf to cup.

  • Growing


    All traditional teas - green and black - come from the Camellia sinensis plant. The difference between green and black teas is the result of processing! Tea is a shrub that grows to over 30 feet tall in the wild. However, most tea gardens keep them trimmed to a height of 4 - 6 feet. The tea plant has thick leaves that are dark green in color, and a strong, thick stem. Tea flowers bloom in white or pink and have a delicate fragrance.



  • Plucking

    Tea leaves and flushes (a terminal bud and two young leaves) are picked by hand, usually by women, from Camellia sinensis bushes typically twice a year during early spring and early summer or late spring. 

  • Withering

    During the withering process, freshly plucked leaves are laid out on long tables to allow water to evaporate from the leaves.

    After withering, the leaves to be used for green tea are steamed to prevent any of the enzymes from oxidizing. They do not go through the steps of rolling or oxidizing.

  • Rolling

    After withering, the leaves that will be used for black tea are rolled by hand or machine. Rolling gently breaks and bruises the leaves to release the enzymes from within the leaves.

    Green tea does not go through the rolling process.

  • Oxidizing

    After rolling, the leaves are laid out on racks where they are oxidized. This process is what turns the leaves from green to brown and black in color.

    Green tea does not go through the oxidation process.

  • Firing

    When the optimal level of oxidation is reached for black tea, the leaves are dried to stop oxidation.

    After withering and steaming, green tea leaves are carefully dried.

  • Sorting

    Next the tea leaves are sorted by size and grade.

  • Packing

    After sorting, loose tea leaves are sealed into large tea chests for storage or shipment to the U.S., where they are bagged and boxed. 

  • Brewing & Enjoying

    When you brew Equal Exchange small farmer teas, you're honoring all the steps the tea has taken to get to your mug. To get the best-tasting cup, heat water based on the type of tea you are drinking. Generally, water for black and herbal teas should be boiling (212F) and water for green teas should be cooler (170-180F). Steeping time varies based on the tea and your taste, but 2 to 5 minutes should be the range for green and black tea bagged teas. See recipes for more ways to enjoy tea.