The world has witnessed innumerable inventions and techniques of production with high-end applications. However Darjeeling tea has retained its authenticity with
its vintage procedure. It is the secret to the taste, which wouldn't else be felt in every sip we slurp.
For the quest for survival, the ''two leaves and a bud'' are plucked by the women working in the gardens ever since the tea industry was started. The initial phase of the tea production is the most fatiguing, as it necessitates tough physical labour and careful plucking that contributes to the taste and quality of the tea. The fresh sprouts are collected in a woven bamboo basket also known as ''doko''. It is carried on their back with the help of a jute rope placed around their head known as ''namlo'', a symbolic traditional tool as a medium for earning a living in the terrains of Himalaya since time immemorial.
With immense care and incredible physical adaptability, the determined women are plucking between 30 to 40 kilograms of leaves and buds during spring and summer season. It is an integral task in order to yield a better taste of the Camellia bushes. Around 22.000 such buds are required to make one kilogram of Darjeeling tea. However, the harvest can comprise of three or four leaves and a bud owing to the rapid growth of the leaves during the other seasons.
The leaves are weighed either in the factories or in small open rest houses, locally known as ''jhyapra'' after the plucking is over. A long queue of women awaits until their harvest are weighed and noted. ''Jhyapra'' is also used as rest houses for the workers, where women gather to take breaks and also a place to leave infants in a cradle while the mothers got to work in the surrounding garden. The tea is weighted twice during high yields. The leaves are then sent to factories where they are processed further. The 'Chowkidar' or garden supervisor conducts the weighing and supervises the working women. He enjoys a superior post than the pluckers.
After the weighing the tea it is transported to the factory in tractors where it´s uniformly spread in big perforated troughs, which are 1- 3 meter wide and 2-5 meters long. Though fresh and tender, the leaves aren't pliable. Hot and cold air is blown over the leaves in order to reduce the level of moisture for 18-24 hours depending upon the moisture content. Over 60-70% of the moisture is abstracted from the leaves, making them slack and soft. Like this they can be rolled under pressure without crumbling. For ensuring even exposure to the air the leaves are gently fluffed, rotated and monitored periodically. Upon the completion of the withering process, the fragrant leaves undergo the phase where they are rolled.
After the leaves are withered, they are transferred between two rollers made of metal plates for rolling, applying moderate pressure. This leads to ruptures in the cells which further leads to wringing out the tea juices comprising the essential oils, enzymes, water, cellulose and other organic compounds like polyphenols, catechins, tannin, flavonoids, and theaflavins which constitute 25% of the leaves. The process of rolling last for 40-45 minutes followed by the accomplishment of the process of oxidation. However, white tea does not undergo the process of rolling.
Oxidation is one of the most sensitive and defining stages of the production that eventually determines the taste and the quality of the tea. This bio-chemical process requires profound experiences which plays a vital role in regulating and meeting the required condition for an impeccable oxidation in order to achieve the desired aroma. It is usually carried out in a clean and cold place at an optimum temperature, spreading the rolled leaves thinly on stacks of clean trays in the cool and humid environment. The duration of the process of oxidation depends on the desired flavour, the ambient condition, the flush, the extent of withering and rolling, availability of oxygen and humidity and the temperature of the room. Occasionally leaves are re-rolled for effective oxidation depending upon its condition. Its a key factor for producing different kinds of teas, flavours, and colours. Black tea is completely oxidized whereas Oolong tea undergoes repeated rolling and oxidation until the maturity is met. Green and White tea doesn't undergo oxidation.The term fermentation was used in the history of tea which was an idea derived from the similar process during wine-making.
Here the tea leaves are dried to arrest further enzymatic changes. After the oxidation is completed, the tea is loaded into driers made of moving perforated trays. The leaves are slowly desiccated to reduce the moisture level at its lowest without scorching the tea and preserving the quality. In the heat ranging from 110°-240°C, the leaves are treated for perfect drying, regulating and maintaining the important methodology like the volume of the air blown, the thickness of the spread and the speed of the moving tray. The process of firing lasts for 20-30 minutes. High temperatures are required for concluding the oxidation process for producing remarkable qualities of tea.
SORTING & PACKING
The manufacture is eventually completed with the process of sorting the tea into grades according to the sizes of the tea. After successful firing, the leaves are then led through the channels of separators, vibrating at different parameters for a successful separation of the sizes which is then collected in a specially designed silver and aluminum foil-lined packings. Eventually, it´s packed and transported to various parts of the world.
Owing to the traditional methodology, the production focuses on retaining the solid stature of the leaves, hence classifying it into various grades according to the size of the leaves. Eventually, there are four types kinds of grading after the final production:
1) WHOLE LEAF
SFTGFOP: Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe is the finest and accordingly the most expensive grade having many tips, being long and wiry in appearance. Depending upon the season the tea imparts and exhibits its flavor and appearance.
FTGFOP: Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
2) BROKEN LEAF (Leaves are smaller in size and are graded in a decreasing size order)
FTGBOP: Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
TGBOP: Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
FBOP: Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe.
BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe
3) FANNING (Leaves are even smaller than the broken grade)
GFOF: Golden Flowery Orange Fannings
GOF: Golden Orange Fannings
The tea is graded only in accordance to the size and not the quality of the flush, however, the price entirely depends on the size, the quality and the stature of each ''two leaves and a bud''..