Posted on Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 and is filed under Environment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.



Environmentalist US Moinuddin at a tea estate in Ooty

BANGALORE( MT NEWS):  A fascination which I had developed as a child to grow tea plants in Bangalore took me to the sprawling tea estates of Ooty. Here, I purchased a few tea saplings from a beautiful and luxuriant tea estate. When I returned to Bangalore after five days, I planted them in the Magnifique Public School, One Tree by One Person campus on Kanakapura Main Road.   Remarkably, the saplings survived and new leaves began to sprout from the plants, in about three months the plants increased in size.

Creating a cool environment for the tea plants to survive proved to be a challenge. But, the shade of the trees in the surroundings with sparse sunlight penetrating through the branches provided the right atmosphere for the saplings to survive.  Manure prepared from the dead and decayed plant leaves (Humus) acted as the perfect fertilizer for the plants.  Experimenting with tea plants to make them grow  in the climate of Bangalore became an interesting venture. Watching the plants every day to discover new sprouting leaves has become a practice which I wholeheartedly enjoy.

Tea or Camellia sinensis  is an evergreen plant grown in more than 30 countries.  But the five biggest producers of tea are China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey.  After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world.

Environmentalist US Moinuddin inspecting a tea sapling at the Magnifique Public School, One Tree by One Person campus

One essential requirement for the growth of the tea plant is plenty of rainfall. It is usually grown at higher altitudes. However in some tea growing countries such as Sri Lanka, tea is also grown and harvested at lower altitudes producing a different flavour and variety of tea called Ceylon Tea. Cool mornings with a light mist help the plants to shield themselves from the Sun. Too much of sunlight causes the plants to mature slowly. The temperature below 12° C and above 32° C are not favourable for the growth of tea as there is hardly any growth in the tea plant.

However, when a tea plant is left to grow wild it becomes a large tree growing to a height of 30 feet or more. But, in tea plantations the pruning and plucking keeps the plants at waist level. There is a tea tree in Yunnan province, in the South Western China, which is 800 years old with a huge sturdy trunk and stands 60 feet in height. Incredibly, it still provides good tea.

Proper cultivation requires careful elimination of weeds, systematic manuring and application of fertilizers. Shade trees are also grown among the tea bushes. They bring down the temperature, raise humidity and replace the nitrogen in the soil. There are different varieties of tea of which the most popular are Black Tea, Green Tea, Oolong Tea, and White Tea.  All the teas come from the same plant, but it is the difference in their processing which changes its physical structure and taste. Black tea is the most popular, this goes through the full oxidation or fermentation process.

Manufacturing of tea is a rather interesting process. After the leaves are plucked and collected in baskets they are bought to a roadside collection point to be weighed. Then the leaves are sent to the factory, the tea factory is usually a three to four storey building . The first stage of processing is withering which is carried out by spreading out the green leaves evenly on the racks. Here, the leaves are left for 8 to 24 hours, during which time the leaves lose moisture and become flaccid. Next, they are brought down and fed into the rolling machines. These are large metal cylinders which rotate and assist in breaking and twisting the leaves inside the rollers. This process releases the leaves natural juices and enzymes and they begin to change colour, releasing a fresh and tangy apple-like smell that so pleasantly surrounds a tea factory. They leave the rollers in warm, twisted lumps and then these are fed into coarse sieves to be cooled and broken up. The sieves, known as roll-breakers, have a shaking and filtering action. The fine, tender leaves known as first quality come through the sieve first and are removed. The remaining leaves are rerolled and again put on the roll-breakers, the process is repeated many times to produce second, third and fourth qualities.

The next stage is oxidation, more commonly known as fermentation, where the leaves absorb oxygen. In the fermentation room the different qualities are thinly spread on trays in a cool humid atmosphere.  This process which may take up to three hours gives tea its bright copper colour and also its flavour and aroma.

A lush green tea estate in Ooty

The drying or the firing stage follows. The leaves are put on moving trays in a large drying chamber, through which a continuous blast of hot air is forced. This takes about half an hour and stops further oxidisation, after which the tea is fit for drinking.

Almost all the tea is plucked by hand and it is a delicate and skilled operation. In most of the Asian countries, plucking is done by the nimble fingers of women and girls. It is said that the smallness, agility and patience of the feminine hands are necessary for quantity and quality plucking. In India, a skilled plucker working for eight hours in a day can harvest 32 to 36 Kilograms of tea leaves sufficient to produce about 9 Kilograms of manufactured black tea.

By heating tea leaves as soon as they are harvested, fermentation is avoided and the result is Green tea. This type of processing preserves the tea’s health benefits. Green tea is largely consumed in China and Japan. Subsequently, there has been a growing demand for green tea across America and Europe as people have become more aware of its health benefits.

Oolong tea is semi oxidised and it has the characteristics of black and green tea.  Like the green tea, Oolong tea is considered to be effective in reducing cholesterol levels, treatment of digestive disorders, strengthening of immune system and formation of stronger bones.

White tea comes from the buds and leaves of the tea plant, the leaves and buds are allowed to wither in natural sunlight before they are minimally processed to prevent oxidation or further tea processing. The fine silvery-white hair on the unopened buds of the tea plant gives it a whitish appearance, hence it is called white tea. This tea is predominantly grown in the Fujian province of China. White tea is also well known for its detoxifying and antioxidant benefits.

India’s 1.24 Billion people are passionate about tea. With many people, the day begins with a cup of hot tea in their hand. Eventually, it energises them and makes their day beautiful.

By and large, drinking tea is one healthy habit that can keep you and your family fit and fine to face everyday challenges of life.

                                                                                                                                                       –  US Moinuddin

Author, Environmentalist, Educationist, Motivational Speaker





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