Thursday, January 26, 2012

Flowers of the Tea Fields

The flowers of the tea field

About 350 women pick the 60 tea fields (nearly 300 hectares) at Glenburn Tea EstateTheir children attend school on the plantation, and babes in arms are brought to the tea fields.  A nurse maid keeps watch, or the mothers take turns, while the others pick and sometimes sing.  Five generations of families have worked these fields. 

It's the women who do the picking, a long tradition and belief that the delicate hands of a woman are required to give the tea the most gentle treatment.  The tea pickers we met were a little camera shy, but they smiled a lot.  They were curious about us, too.
Preparing for work in the wet bushes

Darjeeling has five seasons:  spring, summer, autumn, winter and monsoon.  In mid September, we experienced the long-tailed end of the monsoon season.  It rained quite a bit, but the tea picking continued.  The monsoon flush was underway, and during this season the tea bush "grows like crazy" to quote estate manager Sanjay Sharma.  Darjeeling monsoon teas are known for their rich amber color and full-bodied yet smooth taste.  Once the monsoon picking is over, the tea bushes take a brief rest and then autumnal picking commences.

Such beautiful women

Picking tea in the rain, very common in the monsoon season

The tea bushes in Darjeeling are trained into tables, flat surfaces that make for efficient tea picking.  In China, by contrast, the bushes are rounder which maximizes surface area.  It takes more than 1,000 shoots to make a pound of tea.  Pickers are paid by weight, and on average can pick about 8.5 kilograms (~18.7 pounds) per work day.  During the monsoon season, the numbers may be much higher due to the enthusiastic growth of the bushes.  Salaries are government regulated. 
The sky is grey, the rain is heavy but her smile is bright

Though the setting is almost too beautiful to be true in the tea fields of Darjeeling, the picking is real-life hard work.  The tea fields are sloped, requiring balance and leg strength.  The baskets get heavy and the weather conditions can vary from cool and rainy to humid and warm.  Few of us in the US would have the stamina or skill to make it even one day with these women.  Each time I drink a cup, I send out my thanks to these women with the pretty smiles, deft hands and strong muscles.

Another flower in the tea field - camellia sinensis


Anonymous said...

What a fascinating account of work in the tea fields. Yes, we do owe much to the women who pick our treasured leaves.

amherstrose said...

Raising my morning cuppa to these beautiful women.

Rosemary said...

Each post about your fantastic journey is more beautiful than the previous one. Your insight and photos add fragrance to our understanding.

Linda Jennings said...

Beautiful post!! Oh, what wonderful memories you made during this trip. Thank you for sharing with those of us who can only imagine..

relevanttealeaf said...

Thank you for sharing your wonderful trip with us. Your photography is beautiful, and even though your descriptive writing is interesting and wonderful to read, the photos make your posts come alive. You should be hired to publicize tea tours!

Anonymous said...

Stephanie, your photographs are absolutely stunning and what a *perfect* title post: Flowers of the Tea Fields. Just loved this. Thank you. xxx

Miss Tea Delight said...

Thanks for reminding us of lessons of gratitude and appreciation.

Marilyn Miller said...

Gorgeous faces, colors, and flower of the tea field. How lovely to see their lovely smiles. The dress, colors, and preparations for the day of picking really should all go in a book about these lovely ladies that pick tea for us. I was struck by the ladies in Taiwan also and yet so different from your pictures.

Quinn said...

I am really enjoying your tour notes and photos; thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

Allison said...

So love this post Steph! Thank you for sharing the story of these women and the beautiful photos from your visit! :-)

Angela McRae said...

What richness in both your photos and words! I just love seeing the character-filled faces of other women around the world. And I had no idea they ever picked tea in the rain--mercy!

The Teaist said...

Hi Steph!

I still owe you an email but I've been busy setting up a dual English language and Dutch language tea blog. It is now ready so I am all set to start our collaboration!

All the best,
The Teaist (Esther)