Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Look Inside the Glenburn Tea Factory

Smelling freshly-made tea, just seconds out of the dryer

We've traveled to West Bengal, India, from Siliguri up the mountain into Darjeeling, onto the Glenburn tea estate, through the tea fields, and now into the factory.

Darjeeling tea is prized for its its unique flavor profiles.  First flush teas (picking will begin in March) can command very high prices.  The general process of making Darjeeling tea is this:
  • Withering
  • Rolling
  • Oxidation (often called Fermentation, tho technically that's a different chemical process)
  • Drying
  • Sorting and Packaging
Withering Trough, Photo by Dan Robertson (World Tea Tours)

The withering trough is a wind tunnel with a nylon mesh lining for the tea.  The purpose of withering is to reduce the moisture content of the leaf and to make the leaf supple.  Yet it's more than that, too.  Withering greatly impacts the flavor of the final product.  Longer withers yield different flavor profiles, and it is up to the skilled factory workers to know what is right for this flush of tea.  One of these experts remains with the withering tea all night, constantly checking the state of the leaf.  The trough begins with about three inches of leaf, and it withers down to about one inch.

"The tea is going to call the shots.  The human must observe and respond."  ~Sanjay, Glenburn Plantation Manager

"Super Twist" rolling machine - love that name!

Rolling used to be done by hand and foot.  Today, most tea is rolled by machine.  The rolling machine works in a circular manner, to twist and style the tea.  During rolling, the leaf's cellular walls are ruptured, thus beginning the oxidation process. 

The next step, oxidation, "determines the cup."  Oxidation is where it all comes together.  I'm over simplifying, but think of it as this season's unique tea + withering + oxidation gets us to the flavor profile in the cup.  When the tea has reached its desired state, it's moved into the dryer.  (See top pic.)  Drying stops the chemical reactions of oxidation.  Then off to the sorting rooms to be graded by size.
The sorting room leader

The women in the sorting room cover their faces because it can be dusty work, but it's out of the elements, and is a highly desired job.  Six different grades of tea (based on size and wholeness) will be sorted.

Sanjay and tour leader, Dan, inspecting the final product


Unknown said...

very nice photos and write up! Dan looks great! Ah those silver needles I guess in the tea chest, yum!

Steph said...

Yes, they were indeed Silvers! :-)

Colleen said...

Great write-up, Stephanie! and photos too! The last with Sanjay and Dan is perfect- captures each of them and their personalities, as well as the beautiful tea.
Ah, the tea... I wish I was there sipping the beautiful tea on the veranda.

Marilyn Miller said...

The final product looks delicious! How fun to see the whole process.

Rosemary said...

What an amazing experience! Thanks for sharing!

parTea lady said...

What an interesting post. Your photos are wonderful. Thank you for sharing Glenburn Tea Factory with us.

Teafan said...

I love the name "super twist!"

Anonymous said...

Those women are gorgeous! How do they manage to stay so attractive?

Ms. Ainee C. Beland said...

What is to be said: Seeing is believing, but of what?

Angela McRae said...

How amazing to get to see all this up close and personal! We think of our cup of tea as such a simple thing, and yet, just *look* at all the effort that goes into it!