08 Nov How is Harmony’s honeybush tea harvested and dried?
Have you ever wondered how Harmony’s honeybush tea makes its way from the farm into your kitchen?
According to traditional methods, tea is harvested in early autumn or late spring ─ depending on the flowering period of the species. The harvest period can, however, be extended into late summer during the flowering period or just after flowering. Honeybush is harvested once a year, after which the plants are left to grow naturally until the next harvest.
Step 1: Harvesting
Harmony’s honeybush is hand-harvested by residents of the local Ruiterbos area. At harvest time we cut the shoots (leaves and twigs) of the plant and gather the honeybush branches in bundles. In the tea industry, different harvesting practices are used:
- Harvesting of only the young growth.
- Cutting of the bush as low as possible from the ground.
- Cutting it approximately 0,33 m from the ground.
Step 2: Sorting and processing
The entire bushel of tea is pushed through a cutting machine. The sorting of the different cuts of tea is only done after the drying process has been completed.
Step 3: Fermentation (oxidation)
The chopped up material is then sweated (fermented) to develop its characteristic taste and colour.
There are currently two distinct methods used for honeybush tea fermentation: fermentation in a curing heap and fermentation at elevated temperatures or using a baking oven.
The common method of honeybush tea fermentation is the use of a curing heap, especially when large quantities of tea are produced. An oval-shaped heap of approximately 4 to 5 metres in diameter and 2 meters high are formed from 1,5 to 2,5 tons of green honeybush material. The heap is left for three days to allow spontaneous heat generation and fermentation.
During the fermentation period, the material changes from green to dark-brown and develops a sweet aroma. If a sweet, honey-like aroma is present and the material has a dark-brown colour, the heap is spread open in a thin layer and allowed to dry in the sun.
Processing starts with finely chopped honeybush. The material is placed in fermentation tanks, where it ferments at 70 °C for two days and three nights. A small amount of water is added to kickstart the fermentation. Depending on the moisture in the plant, more water is then added as required. Processed material varies between 6 mm and 3 cm length.
Step 4: Drying
The final steps involve drying, sieving, grading and packaging of the honeybush tea. After fermentation, the tea is dried on outdoor drying racks exposed to the sun. Another option is also to use a commercial dryer (oven). The tea normally takes 1 to 2 days to dry, but this depends on the thickness of the layer as well as the weather conditions.
To make “green” honeybush, the fermentation process is skipped, resulting in a lighter-coloured tea that does not have the characteristic sweet flavour of the traditional tea. However, green honeybush tea has a higher antioxidant activity and is therefore popular with health-conscious consumers, as well as for applications in cosmetics and functional foods.
Information obtained from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is used in this article.