The Art of Making Tea
GROWING OUR TEA
Tea samplings being planted in Chota Tingrai Tea Estate
At Mana Organics, we start with the soil. Nutrients in most tea soils have been leached off by years of over-cultivation. This has encouraged the overuse of chemical fertilizers to provide nutrition to tea bushes. This has hardened the soil, and in many gardens formed salt pans. Both types of soil damage diminish a plant’s ability to uptake nutrients. Without these nutrients, tea bushes cannot produce the same amount of leaf. To fight crop loss, many add more chemical fertilizer. This further degrades the soil, producing a vicious cycle of increasing chemical fertilizer use and soil damage.
We have found success by approaching soil holistically, and flexibly. To improve soil health, our field managers use compost and vermicompost to replace or supplement chemical fertilizer. We make these organic inputs inhouse. We gather household waste and renewable plant matter to make 100 tons of compost every season.
Once soil nutrition has begun to recover, we replace chemical pesticides and herbicides. Instead of pesticides, we gather herbs to make organic sprays that repel bad insects. We also enlist the help of predatory insects by supporting their local habitats in our gardens. To combat weeds, we deploy both mechanized and hand strategies.
Sometimes we convert a garden to 100% organic management. Other times, due to poor plant health and other challenges, we utilize a sustainable, hybrid approach. We still emphasize organic inputs first, but we will supplement nutrition and pest management with conventional tools when necessary.
HARVESTING OUR TEA
Tea plucking action in a section in Chota Tingrai
Tea in Assam is harvested from March to December. During this period, every bush is harvest, “plucked,” a minimum of once a week. Skilled workers, aptly called “pluckers,” undertake this harvest by hand, gathering about 25-30 kg of leaf daily. This plucking is undertaken in any conditions, be it pleasant, hot as a sauna, or pouring rain. We support their work by providing drinking water, ORS, protective equipment such as rain gear, and medical care.
Since the first time in the year that the tea bush starts putting out leaves is in the spring months, the tea that’s plucked and manufactured is called first flush teas, or spring flush teas. First flush usually lasts for about 3 weeks to a month.
A period of dormancy, called the banjee, follows this flush. The bushes stop putting out leaves. Normally, banjee lasts for approximately two weeks.
After this banjee, the tea bush starts flushing again by mid-May. This is the Second Flush when the quintessential Assam tea is made. The color of the made-tea is dark charcoal with a generous sampling of golden tips. The liquors from this period are characterized as deep amber in color, and full bodied, brisk, and strong.
Second Flush will peak in June-July and last until September. By mid-October, the day starts shrinking, the sunlight becomes soft, and the tea bushes go into Autumn Flush. Tea made during this period is mild, with light-colored liquors compared to the strong second flush. Autumn flush lasts for about a month and a half, after which the tea bush has done its work for the year. Around Thanksgiving, when the holiday mood sets in, the tea bushes also go into rest mode, and stay dormant until Spring!
PROCESSING OUR TEA
Rolled Orthodox tea being sifted into different sizes for even Fermentation and Drying.
Every day, harvested tea leaves are brought to the factory. We have Black tea and a Green tea factory at Chota Tingrai, and manufacture Assam Orthodox, Assam CTC and Green tea. For certified organic teas, only the 100% organic tea leaves from certified tea sections are processed in a dedicated production line.
Tea is withered to loose about 30-40% of moisture before it is rolled to make whole leaf teas or traditionally called, Orthodox Teas. Rolled teas are then allowed to oxidize, (called fermenting in the Tea industry). After fermenting, the teas pass through a dryer. Drying arrests the chemical reactions and stabilizes the tea. The finished tea is well-twisted, dark black and brown leaf – with the golden buds interspersed.
For the CTC teas, a specialty of Assam - instead of being rolled, the tea leaves are Cut-Torn-Crushed, to make into granules. CTC teas make for great brewing with milk and India's first choice of tea.
In the case of green teas, leaves are not withered. They are steamed fresh and rolled. The rolled teas are then immediately sent through a series of driers to arrest the oxidation. To learn more about Chota Tingrai's unique green tea factory, which combines Japanese tea making style with Assamica leaves, click here!
All teas are finally sorted and cleaned before they are packed into cartons or papersacks and sent to Calcutta for further shipping and sales!