Darjeeling tea plantation

One of the best tea in the world is being produced in Darjeeling in India. District Darjeeling is located in West Bengal in India, near Himalayan mountain range which holds famous mountains, such as Mount Everest, Lhotse and Makalu. The most dominant peak however, is the highest mountain of India and third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga (8598m).



Tea production in Darjeeling

There are over 80 tea gardens in Darjeeling with their plantations spread on the hillsides. These tea estates also buy tea from locals that grow tea in nearby villages. There is a big community with around 450 members, all of which sell their tea to a buyer. Every family in the village collects around 5-6 kilos of tea every three days. They keep some for their own use and the rest is sold to a buyer. This buyer comes on a certain day at an agreed time in front of their house, weighs the family's contribution and continues on his way around the village.

darjeeling tea

Not everyone knows that tea plant can grow up to 20 meters high. However, tea plants are being groomed and cut to size of a small bush because it would be difficult to pick tea leaves from a high tree. Farmers pick the youngest and freshest three leaves from the top of the plant and harvest season begins in the spring, usually at the end of March. These leaves from so called 'first flush' are considered the best and tea that is made from them is the most wanted and also most expensive.



How tea is made in the village

Local villagers in Darjeeling make their own tea at home. They are very lucky indeed, as opposed to people from Sri Lanka where they are forced to hand in all their own tea production to the government and buy second grade Ceylon tea from a shop. People from Darjeeling make their own tea though. First of all, they leave their picked tea leaves rest for 12 hours, just to let them become softer and to avoid breaking them in the following process. After that, tea leaves are being kneaded in a basket just like dough for 15 minutes. When the dough is made, leaves are being rolled in little rolls, which helps them release juices. This dough making is called fermentation or oxidation, which is a very important step while making tea. The time it takes for fermentation influences smell and taste of tea. The technique of fermentation on the other hand influences whether said tea is going to be white, green, half-green [called oolong] or black. Fermentation is completely skipped when making white tea, it is even demanded that tea leaves are not damaged during picking, however, when making black tea, fermentation process takes the longest. After this process is done, tea leaves are left to rest again for three hours. At the end they are dried which completely finishes the process of fermentation. Villagers light fire, prepare burning coal and place metal sieve with tea leaves above them. Tea with tea leaves is ready after an hour of drying. This way makes about 250 grams of tea out of 1 kilo of fresh leaves, which local people sell for around 200 rupees. However, tea of this quality is much more expensive in a normal shop. The price of tea depends on location of the farm, whether it contains whole leaves or just dust and it is divided into groups that define quality. Group of the highest quality is called SFTGFOP.

darjeeling tea making

Tea gardens make their tea on a higher level than this. There is a lot of technology involved and the process is often specified by customer. The way is basically the same, however it is more precise and economical. The nearest farm to Darjeeling is Happy Valley and it is located on the highest point in the area (1854 m). Happy Valley supplies tea to luxurious English shops and is restricted by the rules given by the customer. Tea from here is dried for exactly 22 minutes on 115 degrees of Celsius. Believe me when I say, that tea like that is something completely different than the one we buy in supermarkets.



More about my travels to India, you can read in the travelogue



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