Tea is something that colonisation brought to us. Originally, we all had secret herbal extract recipes that our grandmas passed on to us, which is what we used to have as ‘teas’. However, over the last couple of centuries we have all converted to the light brown sugar filled concoction that makes us happy.
It is something we cherish when the weather is rainy, and the clouds romance with the mighty Sun. A cup of hot tea and a couple of samosas or bajjis would mean traveling to heaven and back – right?
I have seen how tea is grown in the Nilgiris and heard about its negative effects on the eco-system of a forest. This time in Srilanka, I had the opportunity to visit a tea factory and I got to know more. There were about seven such tall buildings with huge glass windows, standing amidst carefully manicured mountains of tea plantations, all of them churning out tonnes of tea leaves and dust every single day. Srilanka’s largest export is the Tea!
The strong aroma of fresh leaves mixed with the heat of the machines, as we entered the factory, was very different from that which tingles our taste buds when we bring our cuppa close to our lips.
The season for picking tea is from January to May.
The first harvest is called the flush and it is always the best.
There are four kinds of teas – Black, green, white and silver, all pf which are from the same trees (tea plants are actually trees that are kept stunted so that it is easy to harvest).
The top most bits containing the fresh three leaves are manually plucked. The buds are used to make white tea, the combination of buds and few small leaves makes silver.
Black tea is made like this: all three leaves are drawn out on huge drying fans, where they loose 50% of their weight which is water, then they undergo a grinding process. These bits are then exposed to a water fan which oxidises them ( they call this fermentation), after which it is again dehydrated. then it is sorted, where the leaves are separated from the stalks. Stalks are then sent back to be used as compost. The leaves are then ground again. Three categories are drawn out here – large leaves, medium leaves and dust. Dust is the strongest tea and the large leaves, the lightest.
Green tea is what we get before the oxidisation process happens.
They had a huge grinding equipment kept as an exhibit which was a machine made in Calcutta 145 years ago!
There was tea-tasting in the end, in which they gave us cups of all varieties including their Royal Golden Flush which they claimed was their secret recipe that used to be served only to the Royal British families when they visited.
This is where we learnt that the tea we crave for during the rains, is a mutated version of how it is to be had! Black and bitter!
I wonder why though, considering it tastes so much better when mixed with acidic ingredients like milk and sugar, which intern help our throats wash out the sticky fat from the oily samosas and bajjis – all for imbibing the experience of a hearty rain! The English might have known tea, but we know how to make it an experience!