Rabu, 05 Mei 2010

Kerala & Tea

In 2009 Pauline and I spent some time high in the Western Ghats of Kerala, India, amongst the tea plantations. This is a short background to tea cultivation in Kerala illustrated with photographs taken during that trip.

Pauline in a tea plantation

Commercial tea cultivation in India was suggested to the East India Company as early as 1778 by the English botanist Sir Joseph Banks. The first shipment of eight chests of Indian tea reached London in 1839 and auctioned at high prices.
In south India the first experiments with tea cultivation in the Nilgiris [the Blue Mountains] were in 1834. Development of the Kanan Devan Hills around Munnar by James Finlay & Co during 1878 with tea as the exclusive crop is a major landmark in the history of development of tea in south India. By 1900 the area under tea in south India reached 12,670 ha and production touched 2,315 tonnes. Most of the production was exported to Britain.

A carpet of tea rolling over the contours

The elevation rises from 950 to 2,600 metres above sea level. The green carpet of tea interspersed with silver oaks and eucalyptus trees. Some of the tea fields in the region at 2,200 metres are among the highest in the world. Due to the elevation advantage, tea produced in the region is of very good quality.

Tea pickers amongst the tea

The tea plant is a camellia [Camellia Sinensis]. Tea bushes grow to tree height in the wild but on plantations they are maintained at waist height to enable picking. Only the bud and first two leaves of each shoot are picked. Apart from tea bushes other plants grown on tea plantations include pepper, cardamom, cashew and areca nut. We saw also coconut, rubber, banana and kapok.

The tea pickers were a friendly lot

Tea bushes are planted 1 to 1.5 metres apart to follow the natural contours of the landscape. Trees are often planted amongst the tea to provide a little shade. The tea is plucked every 5-10 days depending on where it is grown. The Sinensis variety is a hardy plant able to withstand cold winters and has an economic life of around 100 years. Most of the tea plantations we saw around Munnar would have been of this age.

Today, India is one of the largest tea producers in the world, though over 70% of the tea is consumed within India itself. A number of renowned teas, such as Darjeeling also grow exclusively in India. The Indian tea industry has grown to own many global tea brands, and has evolved to one of the most technologically equipped tea industries in the world. Tea production, certification, exportation, and all other facets of the tea trade in India are controlled by the Tea Board of India.

Bagging up at the end of the day

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