All Kangra tea is produced by orthodox manufacture, and given the traditional manner of cultivation and frugal inputs, the region is by default organic. The more remote tea areas in the region retain vestiges of the past, a quaint living tea museum dotted with vintage Britannia and Marshall orthodox tea rollers, made by 19th century English tea equipment manufacturers, that still turn out a good twist!
Some of the small growers in Kangra are third generation planters and keep the family tradition alive, because "my grandfather grew tea and it's what I've seen since I was a child." The processing methods haven't changed much either – Kangra is the only tea region in India where hand rolling of tea is still in vogue – green tea is produced by both by the steam as well as the pan roasting method and patiently handcrafted.
Manufacturing Process of Kangra Tea
A tea factory is a heady place to be in, thanks entirely to the tonnes of fresh, aromatic produce around you. Used as we are to buying tea in 250gm or 500gm packs, the sight of mounds of tea on the floor is bound to surprise. Inside the Palampur factory, which has an annual capacity of 500 tonnes, you will find freshly plucked leaves withering on the first floor.
After tea is plucked from the gardens it undergoes a five step manufacturing process before it is ready to be brewed.
The green leaf is spread on withering troughs loosely, to a depth of 4 inches. Fans are installed to pass air over the green leaf while it withers. The object of the withering process is to get rid of the moisture content in the green leaf and prepare the leaf to withstand the strain of rolling without breaking up. Period of withering can vary from 18 to 24 hours depending on the moisture content. The leaf when properly withered gives off a fragrant odour.
The object of rolling is to bruise the cells of the leaves so that their sap (juices) is exposed to the action of oxygen in the air. Rolling also gives a twist to the leaves. The cell sap contains Tannins, caffeine, proteins and other chemical substance, which ultimately give colour to the liquor infusion.
The rolled leaves are then spread on fermenting beds and left to ferment for a period of 1 – 2 hours. The leaves are loosely spread to a thickness of 1 – 1.5 inches. Good fermentation results in the colour of the leaf to change to reddish brown giving off the characteristic aroma after the juices in the rolled leaves react with each other and the air.
The fermented leaves are then fired (i.e. heated) in a drier machine. The object of this process is to arrest fermentation and slowly desiccate the leaf in such a way so as to extract the whole moisture without scorching the tea and at the same time preserving its qualities to the optimum level. The leaves are passed through the drier and remain within the drier for a period of approx. 20 minutes at a temperature of around 230 – 245 degree Fahrenheit.
The made tea is then sorted in various grades. Sorting of different grades is done by sorting machines which are fitted with wire mesh of different sizes so that the whole leaf; broken; fanning and dust grades fall in different places.
And finally the different grades of tea are packed and are ready to be consumed.