Darjeeling Tea Processing
By Sneha Birla
Processing plays a critical role in maintaining the quality of Darjeeling tea. Even today, it is processed using orthodox methods instead of the standard CTC (Curling, Tearing and Crushing) method that is followed in the plains. There are several intricate and delicate steps involved in processing.
Plucking Leaves From The Garden
This is the first step that is an art by itself. There needs to be selective plucking of a couple of leaves and the bud that makes the shoot. One needs around 22,000 shoots to make one kilogram of tea. A tea garden worker plucks around 4 to 5 kilograms per day and it requires a lot of hard work. Cold and damp weather hinder the plucking process with difficult hilly terrain further compounding it. Bulk of the plucking takes place during monsoon. One requires a lot of skill to pluck efficiently.
Withering is the next step. It is a way of drying the leaves in a factory and essentially involves removing moisture content. Initially, they have around 70 to 80 percent moisture. They are placed in long wooden boxes and strong wind is blown through them. This helps in uniform drying. The boxes are generally 80 foot long, 6 feet wide and 4 feet in-depth. Withering takes places for almost 16 hours and removes nearly 70 percent of the moisture.
Rolling is the next process where mechanical rollers press and twist the leaves. The main purpose behind rolling is to take out any left moisture and flatten the leaves. It is essential to monitor the step so that they don’t break. The process lasts for nearly 80 minutes.
In the fermentation stage, the leaves are placed on clean trays in a humid and cool environment. Fermentation takes place through a bio-chemical process and lasts for around 4 hours depending on the tea’s quality. Highest quality Darjeeling tea develops its flavour and aroma during this process and any sort of under treatment can completely ruin the tea’s quality.
The leaves are dried once again after fermentation with the help of large mechanical dryers. They are put through conveyor belts that vibrate and expose the tea to a temperature ranging between 115-120�C. The entire process lasts for about 30 minutes.
This is the last stage where grades of different leaves are sorted and packed based on their size (full, broken, dust and fanning). It takes places with the help of automatic sorting machines.
The author works with one of the famous Darjeeling tea wholesale suppliers in India known for selling the highest quality of Darjeeling tea. He has written exclusive articles on this aromatic beverage and its flushes in various magazines and portals.