Upon reaching the Kanchan view tea garden, we were greeted by a couple of solid iron doors which led to the bungalow in which we were to meet the manager of the place. We went through the muddy roads of Kanchan View to reach the bungalow and greeted the manager who then offered us fresh tea from the day’s production.
It had a fine odour, and as Mr. Vivek Lochan was enjoying his cup of tea, he stated ”from the plucking of the leaf, to the brewing tea in a cup, every small step is very important to get the right flavour and the right colour. One single mistake at any step can mean that the tea hasn’t reached its full potential.”
After we finished drinking our cups of orthodox Darjeeling tea, the manager of the garden offered to show us around Kanchan View.
The garden was much steeper than I had thought, the path was stony and slippery with algae, we were surrounded by tea bushes and wilderness, and the sunlight met the tea bushes for approximately 6 hours. The tea bushes on the west side of the garden saw the light for only 3 hours. “The amount of sun received by the bush affects the tea greatly, even the moisture present in the air, the amount of rain occurred at the time, basically we have to take care of the Ganch (tree or plant, as the locals say it) in every way possible.”
Then we headed down and saw the China bushes. The bottom was dark green and they were about 1 metre from ground level and 3-4 feet wide, and to my surprise, I couldn’t find the bud I had heard so much about. Before we got here I had been told that to make good tea there is a bud and two leaves under it which are to be plucked together. There were leaves but there was no bud. Mr Vivek explained that “they have already been plucked. The section on the top was plucked a few days ago [and] that is why the leaves have grown back […] we will be able to see the buds on the lower sections much closer to the factory, but for now look at this bush, the leaves are much softer than the Assamese family of camellia sinensis. See there are two types of bushes used for the production of tea: China and Assamese, while the China bushes make soft teas, the Assamica ones are very malty. The tea leaves here are much smaller than that of any Assamese tea Ganch.”
Then we observed the leaves closely; the bottom was dark green while the top became lighter.
“The biggest problem our garden faces is weeds.” stated the manager. ”Since we are producing organic tea, we can’t use pesticides and therefore we have to appoint additional labour to get rid of weeds manually, but labour is hard to find for now, maybe it will get better later but for now we have to divide our existing labour to cut weeds and pluck tea which reduces are tea production by almost half!”
When we were about to reach the factory we saw a section which had not been plucked, so we went down to see how it looks. The tea bushes did look different than the previous ones, they were all of the same size but more green from the top, and “the greenest tea leaves I’ve ever seen!” I thought to myself, while I felt the softness of the leaves.
The factory was in clear sight, it had taken us almost 30 minutes to climb all the way down to the factory from the bungalow as we kept stopping to admire the view. The clouds were surrounding the place, blocking our view. It is said that you can see 7 states from the bungalow, and it surely was magnificent every time it got a little clear. But since it was the time for the second flush, it was all clouds surrounding the place.
Anyhow, we reached the factory. There were three guard dogs around it that started barking as they felt the presence of strangers but calmed down when they caught the manager’s scent with us. The factory was newly constructed and was not as big as the previous factory which was a bit more on the west site of the venue.
“It isn’t economic to use the bigger factory as it requires more fuel and energy. From what is getting produced here currently, this smaller factory will play the part better.” Mr. Vivek explained. As we entered I saw four lanes of air-blowing trays but there were only two lanes functioning at that time, both with freshly plucked tea leaves in them. Out of curiosity, I asked Mr Vivek, “If the tea is getting air blown and these are all tea leaves, then what is it that the people are taking out from the trays?”
“To improve the quality of the tea they are taking out any broken leaf or any dead leaf. These kinds of leaves decrease the price and quality of the tea, so removing them beforehand is the smart thing to do.” He answered and then pointed towards the manager. “He has to make sure that the leaves are getting proper ventilation, too much or too little air between the leaves can disrupt them. While too much air would increase the moisture content and make the tea softer than it should be, not enough air would result in the rotting of the tea leaves and hence all the process till now would be a waste. This is the responsibility of the manager, and…” he gave me a faint smile and continued, “Do you know that there is no set time for this? The tea stays here for 12 to 20 hours… more or less depending on the tea, one wrong move and all the hard work goes to waste. We can’t learn this process from any book but only through practically observing and working with different kinds of production, and over a year or a few years one can know how to take the best out of tea. But every garden makes tea differently, every garden owner uses different kinds of methods and that is how different kinds of flavours are achieved with the same kind of plant that is camellia sinensis.”
I looked over at the manager who smiled at me, and I acknowledged how many years he has worked in this factory and how much work he did. He was a hard working fellow, going up and down the hills and inspecting each and every stage every day.
After that, we went to the next room which had two machines, ”What are these for?” I asked while observing the machines.
“These are used for rolling the tea leaves, the machine on the left of you is the traditional Darjeeling tea rolling machine and the one on the right is the Taiwanese model which does not work on the Darjeeling leaves. Many garden owners invested in the Taiwanese model, hoping that they would be able to improve the quality of tea but these machines did not suit the Darjeeling leaves and further decreased the quality.”
Next was the fermentation of the leaves. After rolling they were spread out on a specifically prepared floor for the fermentation process. “Fermentation is done only on the teas after the first flush; there is no fermentation for first flush. After fermentation, the leaves are still a bit wet, therefore they have to be put into a drier to drive out the moisture from them.”
Then we went to the drier and observed it from a distance without touching it, as it was 110 degree Celsius hot and still increasing. It has to reach 125 degree Celsius to work properly. The heat was unbearable there and thus we decided to wait where the finished tea comes out, at the bungalow. On the way back I asked Mr Vivek a question that I was very curious about, “Is the process of production in Assam the same as here?”
“No, it isn’t,” Replied Mr Vivek, “It is very different from here; only till the withering process everything stays the same, but after that, it isn’t similar at all. In Assam, they use the CFMs (continuous fermentation machines) for tea production.”
After that, we continued on the muddy and dusty road to get back to bungalow even though we came down through a narrow road. This one was much broader from it and was supposed to be for vehicles, but there were no vehicles there. “This was supposed to give way to the vehicles but since this area is too steep, it’s prone to accidents and landslides. It’s very unsafe and not everyone can climb through here.”