Thekkady is not just all about the Periyar Tiger Reserve, the Iddukki Dam and the beautiful mountains, it is so much more. I learnt this on my recent trip to Thekkady. I had an opportunity to visit a tea plantation and factory by the name of Connemara Tea Plantation. A word of thanks is due to the good people at Greenwoods, who highly recommended that I pay the plantation a visit. It was a truly refreshing experience for someone like me who was looking for something different in Thekkady besides the usual tourist attractions.
The visit to the plantation involves a view of the process of how tea is grown, plucked and processed into what we consume as a hot beverage. For a teetotaler like me this was heaven like. I learnt a fair bit about the history of tea and how the cultivation of tea found its way to India when the British imperialists started growing tea in high altitude locales like Munnar and Darjeeling. I had a local tea expert to guide me during the course of the plantation visit. While visitng the bushes I was told of the unique practice of having women doing the job of plucking leaves. The explanation for this is that women are more careful in this regard while plucking the tender tea leaves form the bush. One interesting observation I made was the presence of oak trees which are interspersed with the tea bushes. My guide told me that this is done to give shade to the bushes as too much sun scorches the leaves.
The bushes are short in stature because of the constant harvesting and they can be harvested for about one hundred years and then they have to be taken out and new ones have to be planted. Fortunately tea is a productive plant and can be harvested every twenty days. Only the young leaves are used and harvesting is done mainly by hand or nowadays also with shears. Top quality teas are usually harvested by hand so that only the tip and two leaves are used. This is where the polyphenols are and they are what give tea its distinct strong flavour. At Connemara the harvesters are all women, I guess they applied the same logic I told you earlier about and they pick around 20kg per day.
Once the harvested leaves reach the factory the leaves are withered, this removes the excess moisture. Then they are shredded and made ready for fermentation. This is an important part of the process as the oxidation which takes place transforms the chlorophyll is broken down and tannins are released. By the end of fermentation the leaves are brown & ready for drying. Once dried it is sifted according to size.
It sounds pretty simple but anything can go wrong at any stage and the process is affected by the changing weather conditions and the end result is by no means uniform. This is where the master blenders come in. They take the tea from different harvests and mix it to achieve the desired product.
For people visitng Thekkady especially those who wish to have different experience, the Coonemara Tea Plantation should be a ‘must visit’ on your travel list. It offers a different perspective of Thekkady. A tourist location that offers a different experience from that of the others in Thekkady.