Harvesting – Camellia Sinensis
There are two types of tea production in Nepal: Orthodox and Crush-Tear-Curl abbrv., CTC. CTC falls in Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica type whereas Orthodox tea falls in Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis cultivar. It is Orthodox Tea popularly known as Specialty Tea.
After the winter hibernation, the first harvest of the year begins in April, which is known as Spring Harvest or the First Flush. Generally, there are four harvests in a year of four seasons. But the production is significantly low during the monsoon harvest because of extremely wet-and-cold weather condition in the hilly region. Therefore, summer and monsoon harvests together are considered as the second harvest in Nepal. However, teas produced in monsoon are full-bodied, dark and intense!
Tea production starts with the farmers who pluck the tea leaves in the tea garden. It is there, pre-determined which leaves to pick. One needs experience in keeping the balance and precision while plucking tea leaves. Picking just the buds or specific leaves is intense and a tiresome job, it needs accuracy and balance in order to protect the leaves from breaking. Only hand-picked tea leaves will keep most of its properties intact and likewise, they are highly graded.
Mai Pokhari, Ilaam
Small farmers pick tea leaves from their own hilly garden. The leaves are picked and sent packing in the sack to the factory on the same day. The tea leaves after plucked must be fresh and sent to the processing units.
Wilting / drying
Withering is the first step in processing tea. In a simple definition, it means drying the leaves but in a controlled environment. Withering is carried out inside the room or outside in the natural air for certain duration and temperature depending on the type of tea to obtain the right amount of moisture. Withering is also termed Wilting.
MAI POKHARI, ILAAM
(Withering for Oolong)
These overgrown leaves are left for withering in the natural open air. Due to the harsh weather condition, it does not need to be in the shade but whatever could be grasped from the clouded sun.
Breaking of cell-walls
The main purpose of bruising is to break the cell walls of the tea leaves for oxidation. Bruising can be performed manually which was and still exit in practice but that will come with a cost and variance. Bruising with the machine will result in a consistent batch of teas, and also, it does help to perform several rounds of the bruising process which is necessary for some type of teas that need a high level of oxidation. Nevertheless, small farmers do practice hand-bruising, it is stemmed up in their culture.
(Bruising machine used in small-scale producer)
In a small-scale Kanchenjunga tea factory.
Oxidation plays a major role in tea processing. After the cell walls have been broken from bruising, the tea leaves are again withered but this time in a room, not on the outside in the open air. This causes enzymes to react and turn the leaves darker in colour releasing its tannins. Oxidation process needs to be carefully monitored. Heat, humidity and even oxidation of all leaves should be carefully maintained throughout the process. The incorrect oxidation process will ruin the tea leaves or may not have consistent batch results. It takes time and years to master the timing, atmosphere and all co-related process of oxidation.
(Withering leaves for oxidation)
Small-scale Jasbire Tea processing center.
Firing / Roasting
By fixing, it means fixing the amount of oxidation process to prevent further oxidation by applying heat. Firing or fixation is carried out to the oxidized green leaves by placing them in a rotating-drier drum which is heated at the bottom from the firing place. Fixation is a foremost priority for green teas and the process is instantly carried out to stop the green leaves from burning/oxidizing so that it makes sure the properties of oxidized leaves are preserved. The terms firing, fixing or roasting, all mean the same thing, except for steaming oxidation process which originated from Japan. Traditional, home-made production still uses the frying pan technology which results in a bit more of a smokey flavor yet rich and intriguing.
Mai-Pokhari tea Estate.
The purpose of rolling the leaves is to enhance the taste and flavor. Rolling the tea leaves gently will discharge the fluid. Discharging the fluid plays an important role in enhancing the taste. The process of rolling does not only enhances the taste but it also gives shape to the tea leaves which plays an important role in its visual appearance. Traditional orthodox method of hand-rolling is still in practice among hand-made producers. Mini-processors in Nepal now use machines to carry out the rolling process yet it will still be hand-crafted for it needs manual assistance and constant monitoring of the leaves.
Kanchenjunga Organic Orthodox Tea Factory
The purpose of drying again this time around is to remove the remaining moisture from the tea leaves to avoid further oxidation. It is supposed to determine the shelf life of the tea leaves for storage. By now, it is almost the final stage of whole tea processing. Heat is applied again to dry out the tea leaves. Drying process could be baking, air-drying or natural sunbathing, but it should be processed in a very gentle manner to avoid changes in flavor properties. Applying the right amount of heat in the drying process can bring a brilliant change in flavor.
JASBIRE TEA PROCESSING CENTRE
Mini Tea Factory
Nanglo (Bamboo Tray)
The fully processed tea leaves are now hand-sorted using bamboo tray known as “Nanglo” in Nepal. From here, the tea leaves are hand-sorted to remove the stems and unqualified leaves. In Nepal, almost all of the teas are hand-sorted until now. The remaining from the sorted batch will be then processed forward and labelled for low grade STGFOP, BOP, Fanning and Dust.
JASBIRE TEA PROCESSING CENTRE
Mini Tea Factory
Eastern Nepal Tea Processing Center
Eastern Nepal Tea Processing Center (ENTP) facilitates packaging and marketing solution for the members (small farmers) of Specialty Tea Association of Nepal (STAN). ENTP also looks after quality control management, therefore, it has been included as a secondary processing unit of STAN members. ENTP was established by the members of the STAN with their own private fund.
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