Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Castleton Tea Estate

Natalia and Pat left for a tour of the Golden Triangle today. I miss them already! However, I had an exciting distraction. I got to visit Castleton Tea Estate!

Castleton is very well-known throughout the world. It is run by a company that is 70% British-owned. They own several other estates in Darjeeling, including the equally well-known Margaret's Hope. I met with Suman Das, the field manager, who has worked in the tea industry for some time and who cares very much about spreading knowledge and love for Darjeeling teas around the world. Today we he took me on a tour through the factory. Next week, he'll take me to the fields.

We began the tour with the withering room. It was pretty similar to the one at Makaibari. Not much to say about that.

Then, we went to the rolling room. There were two types of rollers, the regular, single-action kind I had seen at Makaibari, and a second kind that uses a more intense double rolling action to bruise the leaves for oxidation. We discussed the variations in pressure that are necessary to properly bruise the leaves, and then stopped by the "fermentation" (oxidation) tables and talked about the first and second nose (the two peaks of flavor that black teas go through as they oxidize).

From there, we went to the drying room and talked about the input and output temperature variance, the mechanized spreader (which keeps the tea input volume consistent), and the conveyor belt mechanism for transport of the tea to the sorting room.

In the sorting room, I saw several machines which were not present in Makaibari. They sorted the teas to varying degrees. Often, the tealeaves were run through the same machine multiple times for a more refined sorting. At Makaibari, this work is done by hand. I'm sure the machine method is much more efficient, but I have to admit that the hand sorters at Makaibari looked much happier than the workers who ran the sorting machines at Castleton. Either way it's done, at the end of the sorting, the leaves are divided into grades, the most basic of which are dust, fannings, broken leaf, and whole leaf.

(A side note: There are two main types of tea harvesting. One is done by machines. It's called CTC or Cut, Tear, Curl. It cannot produce whole-leaf teas. The other is called Orthodox production, and it is done by hand. It is more time and labor intensive, but it is the only way to get whole-leaf teas. Castleton is not organic, but it is Orthodox. This is part of why it has such a good reputation.)

The last stop in the factory was a multi-purpose room where the tea is run through an electromagnetic machine that removes any residual trash/foreign matter, piles of tea and a shovel (for blending), and crates and stencils (for packaging).

After the factory tour, we sat down for tea and talked shop for a while. We talked about the American market and tea education, and arranged for a field visit next week. I'm looking forward to it already!

Outside of the Castleton visit, today's highlights include:

Orange Blossom tea (Darjeeling with marmalade and orange peel)
The reading of Rajah's book, "The Wonder of Darjeeling"
Progress on the craft education thing I mentioned yesterday
Dinner and tea with Rajah (who has become a good friend over this visit)

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