I began my day with a delicious Indian breakfast. The cuisine is all vegetarian at the place I am staying. I really love vegetarian food I have decided. I really need to expand my recipe volume and maybe, just maybe I could get behind vegetarianism for good.
With breakfast out of the way, the Estate Manager and Farm Manager picked me up in a jeep. We set off down the hill for the office. As we arrived at the estate offices the Estate Manager invited me into his office and offered me to a seat at his desk. There were a few things he needed to take care of before I headed out. Over the next 15 minutes I was audience to a parade of people coming in to get his signature and to review Estate business — a few of what appeared to be invoices, a few worker family related matters, etc.
The Farm Manager, Manoj, then popped his head in the door and asked me if I was ready to go out to visit the fields. Let’s do it!
I hopped on the back of his 100 cc motorbike (sans helmet, I’m sorry Mom, there was not one available) and we set off.
Down the mountain we drove winding our way around the bumpy road. We talked about the estate: the size, organic farming, the workers, and much more.
We then turned off into an area that Manoj told me was called Pankhabari. We drove past workers houses, past a community center, and then found ourselves in the middle of a sea of tea bushes.
Manoj told me of how they had been planting over the past years some of the plants which where native to the area, pointing several out on the way. He said that it helped the ecosystem of the tea bushes by surrounding the tea fields with a variety of native plants.
We stopped at a section of tea bushes which he told me was called the AV2 clone. He said it was the best plant there was. (Admittedly, I cannot recall why — I will have to update tomorrow.)
We then continued the drive as Manoj pointed out different varieties of tea bush. At one point we stopped at a thick and expansive field of bushes which was shaded with a bunch of trees which dotted the field.
Manoj explained how these bushes were young bushes that had been planted 8 years ago. He pointed to the trees and told me they were called “Bokain” trees. These trees served as “shade trees.” They were planted by the estate in order to protect the young bushes from scorching in the sun (and to keep the plant cool). This reminded me of how the Japanese use the tarp-like mats to shade gyokuro and kabusesencha during part of their growing cycle.
Manoj then went on to explain that after 12-13 years, they would be cut down. The wood from the trees would be given to the workers of the estate for firewood. Trust me when I say that these trees grow fast — I was shocked when he told me they were 8 years old. They would provide a lot of firewood once removed.
He then pointed to a few other trees and told me they were more permanent trees being left to grow for 65 years.
We continued our journey through the expansive fields and came upon the oldest bushes of the estate. They were 150+ years old and had been planted by the British. Manoj had me look at the field and then compare it to another field just off to the right which had been replanted over the years. The difference was very obvious.
The old tea bushes were spread out with space in between them. The new tea bushes had been planted in much closer proximity to one another. To me it seemed the newer planting method would offer a higher yield per hectare of land.
Manoj told me that the 150 year old plants still produced tea, however the yield was significantly less than that of the newer plants. He went on to explain that there was a plan to dig up the old plants and place new plants in their place in the coming years.
He then pointed to a field off to the left telling me that it was called the RR144 clone. He explained that it is one of the highest yielding plants of “made tea”, (need to confirm this again and make sure I heard correctly—-> yielding 1800 kg of made tea per plant per year. By comparison an average plant will yield only 400 kg per year of made tea.)
We continued around the estate, stopping here and there to admire and discuss the different elements that made each plot unique. Knowing how terroir impacts tea, it is easy to understand how each plot has its own unique taste characteristics, however slight or strong they may be.
Manoj then took me to another area of fields known as the Karabari area. This area was further down the mountain. As we headed down I was looking off to the right at an expansive collection of tea fields on a large plateau down below. After our earlier discussion on the old bushes versus the new bushes, it was easy to see which was which from above.
As we drove on, we drove by a large collection of pluckers sitting along the side of the road for their lunch break. (They were later taking an afternoon nap under their umbrellas as we drove back a short time later.)
Off to the right ahead was a plot of land that had been pruned down almost to the base of the tea bush. Manoj explained that this was part of a process called HRP Pruning which they must do approximately every 25 years in order to extend the life of the plant. This removes all of the knots that have built up inside the bush itself over the past 25 years, which aides the overall growth moving forward.
We reached the last field where we Manoj showed me a variety known as the Teenali 17 clone. I did not write down any specifics on this variety, I only recall Manoj saying it was a good one.
We then drove back, making a quick stop in the factory to observe the withering process taking place. As we walked into the room, I was wrapped in a thick blanket of the sweetest aroma. It was a mixture of flowers and chlorophyll. I LOVED it — I was imagining it in my cup.
The withering is done on 4 large structures that reminded me off large troughs which would be used to feed animals on a farm. Obviously these were not troughs, but this is the easiest way to explain them. Each ran the length of the room, approximately 20-25 meters. I could see and touch the metal grate-like surface which the leaves would sit on to wither. One and a half of these withering shelves had fresh leaf withering on it. Underneath the grates air would circulate and push up and out past the leaf causing it to wither. Manoj said that the leaves would wither overnight and be ready for additional processing in the morning.
So, back in the morning we will go to discover what happens next… to read about the tea making process in its entirety, read “How is Darjeeling Tea Made?.”
Be sure to check back in with TeaTheWorld.com over the next week for new updates from Darjeeling!
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