Tea Bags vs Tea Leaves Part 1: CTC Tea

There are two basic ways in which tea is manufactured for the global market, CTC and Orthodox. The process results in very different end products serving dramatically different needs. CTC tea manufacturing produces small bits of tea leaves that are typically found in tea bags while orthodox manufacturing provides a product with larger tea leaf parts on up to whole leaf. In Part 1 we will look in more detail at CTC tea manufacturing, the product derived from this method, and the consumer products that result. When we get to Part 2 we will examine Orthodox manufacturing methods and the resulting products.

CTC Tea Processing

Tea Processing – Flicker by Swaminthan – CC BY 2.0

CTC Tea Explained

CTC tea is defined as “Crush Tear Curl” and is a manufacturing method developed by William McKercher in 1931. By one account McKercher developed this method as a way of producing greater quantities of black tea using more mature, larger leaves which, when prepared with milk and sugar could appeal to a broader market (Srivastava, 2011). Regardless, CTC manufacturing spread widely between the 1950’s and 1970’s as teabags gained popularity.

CTC machines themselves are made up of large steel cylinders, manufactured with U or V shaped teeth in them, placed tightly together and turning at different rates of speed. After withering, tea is often pre-processed with a rotorvane, a machine that takes tea from a hopper and causes some initial tearing and crushing of the leaf before passing it along to the CTC machines. The tea is then crushed, torn, and twisted in passing between the steel cylinders of the CTC machine before falling onto a conveyor belt and moving along to another set of CTC rollers. This process can be repeated several times depending on the desired size of the finished product before finally moving along to be fired.



Finished product ranges in size substantially but is generally small pieces of tea leaf down to dust particles which are then rolled into small balls or pellets. The goal with CTC is generally a black tea product that oxidizes quickly and can be reliably produced with uniform size. CTC manufacturing really took off with the introduction of tea bags, thus it is not surprising today that the product of CTC manufacture is primarily for this market. Today CTC tea accounts for about 80% of the market for tea and is a significant part of production in most countries of the world. This probably should not be surprising since much of the word drinks black tea and CTC is synonymous with production of most black teas.

CTC Tea and Quality Tea

A quick word on quality. CTC tea is a very different product from that of Orthodox manufactured teas. The focus for CTC is much more on high volume, large scale tea production with faster oxidation of the product, and consistent taste and liquor appearance. The goal is normally consistent product such that buyers know what to expect with every purchase. The goal with Orthodox production is often very different where the aesthetics of the finished product is important, a wider variety of taste and aroma is desired, and in many cases it’s acceptable or desired to have product which varies from season to season. Therefore, it would really be unfair to hold Orthodox tea products up as “higher quality”. It’s more a question of what the buyer is looking for and if they wish to have greater opportunities to explore variations in tea or if they are just looking for a consistent cup of tea each and every day.

What is your preference, CTC, Orthodox, or does it matter as long as it tastes good?

Follow me @DominionTea or @DavidSColey

Works Cited

Srivastava, D. (2011, September 23). Methods of Basic Research: Issues of Ethics and Plagiarism, http://www.vecc.gov.in/colloquium/dks_lecture.pdf. Kolkata, India.


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