We woke early (to tea) and we were told to get dressed and rush to the factory before breakfast so we could see the whole tea manufacturing process. So glad the factory is just down the hill about a minute walk.
Makaibari, as do all Darjeeling estates, uses the Orthodox version of processing tea as opposed to the CTC (cut, tear, curl) version. The steps for black tea are as follows. We were first taken upstairs into the withering room where 65% of the moisture is removed. The tea leaves that we saw collected yesterday had been spread out on the long screen bed to begin withering. (Until I got to the middle of the room, I had to walk folded over to keep from hitting my head again! Bethany did the slant walk.) Fans blow air across and underneath the trays. This step takes about 14-17 hours.
The tea is sent down this shoot/hole in the floor when ready. The rolling machine is next. Rolling the leaf under pressure ruptures the cell membranes and releases the tea’s oils and juices.
After the tea has gone through this step it is inspected and put on large “jelly roll pan” (did I say large, I meant gargantuous.) and placed on a shelf to ferment/oxidize. Chemical changes that occur during the fermentation process will determine the flavor, strength, body and colour of the liquor once the leaves are cupped.
The humidity level and temperature are constantly watched and recorded. Again, this is for the black teas.
Drying comes next. Coals are heated and air is forced across them into the drying chamber. (The man is showing us the fire inside.) Conveyer belts carry the leaves from one end to the other dropping on the next level down until the leaves make the whole trip to the bottom. This takes about 22 minutes. It is very important to time the process precisely and maintain the temperature at 190 degrees F (90 degrees C). This reduces the leaf moisture to about 2% -3%. The smoke produced from burning the coals is piped out an exhaust to the outside so the smell of smoke will not be absorbed by the tea leaves.
The leaves are then taken to the sorting room and separated by size, some by machine, some by women. The grading process is concerned primarily with the physical qualities of the tea. Due to the fact that all teas in Darjeeling, good or bad, are sorted in this way the grade is more an indication of size than flavour or aroma.
Packing comes next. Into the wooden boxes that have the Makaibari info screen printed on it and metal edges hammered down, the tea is ready to be shipped. A sample of each batch will be sent for tasting in the tasting room. We couldn’t wait until the next morning to get our turn in the tasting room. (I forgot to mention that half way through our tour I had to run back up the hill to get new batteries and the memory card got full!!!) Now it was time for breakfast and a trip to Darjeeling!
Next time you have a cup of Darjeeling tea, the Champaign of Teas, think about this process and all that goes into that delicious liquor! So much happened today, I’ve got to separate the first half and the second half!!!