Tea cultivation in Darjeeling follows a unique and labor-intensive process due to the region’s high altitude, cool climate, and unique soil conditions. Here are the steps involved in tea cultivation in Darjeeling:
- Plantation: The tea plants are planted on the slopes of the hills, usually on terraces. The best time to plant the tea bushes is between October and November, just before the onset of winter. The plantation is done using a technique called “bush planting,” where the tea plants are planted at a distance of about 1 meter from each other.
- Pruning: After the tea bushes have grown to a height of about 30-35 cm, they are pruned for the first time. This is done to encourage bushy growth and to produce more tea leaves.
- Plucking: The tea leaves are plucked by hand, usually by women, who are trained to pluck only the two leaves and a bud that are the youngest and the most tender. This is done every 7 to 10 days from March to November, which is the tea-growing season.
- Withering: The tea leaves are then spread out on withering troughs and left to dry for about 14-16 hours. This helps to reduce the moisture content of the leaves and makes them more pliable.
- Rolling: The tea leaves are then rolled by hand or using machines to break down the cell walls and release the essential oils that give Darjeeling tea its unique flavor and aroma.
- Oxidation: The tea leaves are then left to oxidize for about 1-2 hours. This is a crucial step that determines the flavor and aroma of the tea.
- Drying: The tea leaves are then dried in a dryer at a temperature of about 100-120 degrees Celsius for 20-30 minutes. This stops the oxidation process and locks in the flavor and aroma of the tea.
- Sorting and Packaging: The tea leaves are sorted by size, color, and quality and packaged for sale.
Overall, tea cultivation in Darjeeling is a labor-intensive and delicate process that requires a great deal of skill and attention to detail. The unique flavor and aroma of Darjeeling tea is a result of this meticulous process, which has been perfected over the course of over a century.