The importance of going to the origin of your products
Ladhak (Most Northern Part of India)
In Ladhak, Uppma stayed in home stays with locals and was served butter tea each morning. Butter tea (tsa ja) is the local tea they serve. They use a saucepan to boil a combination of water, tea leaves, butter, salt and milk. The butter mixture is blended then boiled. What you get is buttery, salty chai. It's definitely an acquired taste which grows on those not used to the taste. The reason why they drink this is because of the cold dry climate and high altitude, they say that the butter helps to add moisture to their body in the cold and dry weather and the salt is said to help with the high altitude. Have a look at the incredible tea rooms in their homes here and how we were served chai with the home stay hosts:
In Dharamsala, Uppma was immersed in the stories behind the leaf. How tea is actually cultivated and the intense labour process involved in actually creating the tea that you drink from the tea plant called Camellia Sinensis. Upon entering one of the tea farms, Uppma was greeted with this spectacular view of rows upon rows of tea plants, which continued for the next 2,500 hectares:
The process of cultivating tea first begins with actually picking the tea leaves. Most tea pickers are females in India and come from different regions within India. The method in which tea pickers pluck the tea leaves is very important, they need to pick the young buds at top and avoid breaking the leaf or getting too much of the stem.
The tea pickers work all day picking tea leaves and harvest a morning and evening yield of tea which they pack into sacks for the factory workers to take back to the tea factory for processing. Tea must be processed within 24 hours of picking or else the leaf will go stale, so it is a very arduous process to manufacture tea which requires the need for staff 24/7.
Tea is weighed by the factory workers morning and night, usually a small sized truck will bring in about 700-1000kg of tea for processing in the tea factory.
Once weighed, the freshly plucked tea buds are placed onto withering troughs, which is a long table, below the tea leaves there are fans which blow strong air onto the tea leaves to take out their moisture. The amount of time the leaves are kept on the withering trough depends on the type of tea the farm is wanting to create. E.g. Black tea would be withered longer than a white peony tea, as the white tea is a less processed tea leaf.
After the leaves are withered, they are put separately into piles depending on what tea is going to be processed.
Tea leaves which are to become black teas will go through a heat chamber, where they are heated at a very high heat in a large chamber. This oxidises the tea leaf, further takes out the moisture and begins creating the unique flavour profile of the teas. Some teas will also go into different machines such as a tea rolling machine, which rolls the tea leaves without crushing it, some will go through a steamer to steam the leaves (usually these are leaves which are to become green tea). There is also the grading machine which is layers of different sized mesh that the teas go through which sorts the tea into its unique grade of tea (e.g. full leaf orthodox, broken orange pekoe, crush tea curl).
Processed tea leaves are then put back into piles for the factory workers to package for orders. Sometimes the leaves are reheated before they are sent to the buyers to take out any moisture or to add a fresher flavour to the leaf for the buyer. Here's an image of Uppma discussing the process of tea with a very experienced tea processing manager:
Uppma had the opportunity to drink lots and lots of tea, here is an image of a finished tea that was one of her favourites. It's a White Peony, which is a very high grade of tea that needs to be delicately processed so that the tea leaf does not break and the flavour remains in tact because this leaf goes through the least amount of processing. It tastes like a very delicate floral green tea.
Here is what a traditional cupping session in a tea room looks like. Some of Uppma's favourite teas, other than the White Peony included speciality teas like Silver Needles, Pine Smoked Tea, Oolong, Pu-er, Matcha and Steamed Green Tea.
The aftermath of a tea cupping session:
It was an incredible opportunity for Uppma to visit some of the finest tea farms in India and share some of the most rare speciality teas on these mind blowing tea farms. Soon, we will be showcasing Uppma's favourite teas from her most loved Indian tea plantations so you can support these hard working tea farms and bring a piece of their love and dedication for the leaf into your own home or office.
New Rare Teas Available Soon at Chai Walli
For many in India, tea is a way of life. Owners of tea farms are usually fourth or fifth generation tea farm owners and breathe tea. They understand the intense processes and high costs involved in cultivating tea, but they're passionate about sharing their family history and producing some of the most outstanding tea leaves we've ever tasted. Here at Chai Walli, we don't just want to sell you a bag of tea or a tea pot - but we want you to fully immerse yourself in the culture of tea, understand it, know that all tea leaves come from the same plant - they're just processed differently and be aware of what makes a good tea and what is involved in creating a delicious masala chai blend (spices mixed with black tea). Watch this space while we work out the back end and in a few months time you'll be able to get your hands on our new range - Speciality Teas by Chai Walli. Enjoy this last picture of a cow eating tea leaves: