13/10/17 – 14/10/17
We spent a whole night and day travelling from Rishikesh to Palampur, but it was all worth it when we were welcomed at Kangra airport with a lovely cool breeze! We had pretty much forgotten what that actually felt like! We jumped in a taxi and spent the next 3 hours gripping our seats because our taxi had no seat belts (they seldom do) and our driver was crazy.
Palampur is known as the ‘Darjeeling of Himachal Pradesh’ so we were mainly here for the tea!
We spent our first day wandering around the town of Palampur and got some beautiful henna done. The guy was SUPER quick. To the point where he actually me me nervous that he was going to mess it up!
Cooperative Tea Factory
Afterwards we went to the Cooperative tea factory where we got a speedy five minute tour of the factory. First the leaves are dried in massive troughs to remove 70% of the moisture.
Then they are pressed and rolled in machines. Afterwards the leaves are left to ferment for 4 hours on tarpaulins on the ground, then put into an industrial drier to be dried some more.
Once the leaves have finished drying, they are sorted and grades into different strains, then packaged up to be dispatched.
At the Cooperative Tea Factory, the whole tea making process takes 2-3 days!
Wah Tea Plantation
The next day we hired a lovely tuktuk driver for a few hours to take us to Wah Tea Plantation, the largest in Himachal Pradesh. Maybe it would have been better to hire an actual taxi though because only 10% of the roads on our trip were sealed. Several times we were almost knocked out by our boobs or bounced out of the side of the tuktuk!
Watch to the end 😂😂😂
As we pulled up to the plantation a tour group of old British people (are you really that surprised?) were being shown around so we jumped on the back of their group.
The tea making process at Wah Tea was pretty similar to the Cooperative Tea factory, except the tea is picked on site. There are 200 workers that are in the factory and plantation. 80-100 of those live on the property.
Weighing & Withering
First the baskets of tea that have been picked are weighed. To receive a full days wage of 200 Rupees, each worker must pick 22kgs of tea. If they pick more then they may be given a small bonus, if they don’t meet the target then they will be paid less. Sometimes people manage to even pluck 40kgs in a day! Isn’t that crazy! Women from 16-58 (retirement age) work for 8 back breaking hours each day and for the minimum work only get paid the equivalent of £2.50! To put it into perspective in terms of Indian costs, Danielle and I individually spend about half of that on clean drinking water every day! If they have young children, they will even carry them on their backs as well as the tea on their heads!
Then the leaves are left to wither and dry out in massive troughs for 14-18 hours until there is very little moisture left. This makes the leaf better for rolling.
Rolling & Fermenting
The next step is ‘rolling’, where the colour, strength, aroma and taste is released from the leaves. This takes 25-45 minutes depending on the leaf quality. The juices are squeezed out of the leaves which then dry as a coating around the leaves.
Fermenting is done by laying out the freshly rolled leaves on the specially painted floors, where it is left until the smell of fermentation is just right.
To stop any further fermentation happening to the leaves, they are put into a dryer. Drying the leaves also reduces the moisture to 2-3% which is needed to make sure the tea will survive being stored.
Grading & Packing
We’re in the final stages now!
The tea is sorted into different grades using a machine with vibrating mesh screens that separate the tea into different sizes.
The smaller bits tend to give a darker colour and a stronger flavour, whereas the larger, more leafy bits tends to make a lighter colour and weaker flavour.
The different grades are weighed again and packed into woven sacks with the plantation name, grade, weight and invoice number stenciled on the outside, ready to be shipped! The whole process from the original weighing to packing takes about 12-18 hours.
We were lucky enough to try our hand at picking tea leaves. I don’t think we quite nailed it but hey, we tried! There are three types of pluck and mostly we managed a ‘coarse pluck’…
Imperial pluck: One leaf and one bud
Fine pluck: Two leaves and one bud
Coarse pluck: Three or more leaves and one bud
As much as it was a cool thing to try, I really don’t think we could hack working in a tea plantation!
Next we went to McLeod Ganj to find the Dalai Lama!