Tea Bushes with Frostbite …..You’re kidding?
I’m afraid not, and it looks like 5 thousand tonnes of beautiful Kenyan tea leaves may be lost from January’s crop.
Amazing, considering daytime temperatures average 24º but it’s at night time that the damage is done. Worse still, it takes the bush 6 weeks to recover.
But recover it will, because it’s a hardy shrub and produces new leaves for picking every 7 to 10 days! …. Pretty impressive, especially as it can keep this up for over 100 years!
Kenyan tea is bright in colour with a sweet flavour and container loads of it are shipped into ports in UK and Ireland every week and this loss of crop through frostbite will no doubt send prices soaring at the Mombasa Tea Auction next week. At Punjana we love teas grown at 7000’ above sea level, and East of the Rift Valley. They are a little more expensive form this area, having a more intense taste and flavour, but we reckon they’re worth it.
Anyway, don’t worry too much about Kenya’s tea bushes, they will be fine, because their full name is “ Camellia Sinensis “ and we have many of it’s Camellia cousins growing in this part of the world, and if it can survive our winters, it will breeze through Kenya’s cold snap!
I visited a stunning garden in Assam called Phulbari ( pronounced fool : barry ). It is owned by the world renowned McLeod Russel group and it is hugely impressive. From the breathtaking scenery to the sparkling factory where the leaves are broken up and dried, it is hard to imagine how tea could be better made.
This garden is over 2000 acres of tea bushes and while I was there they were in full flow, plucking the entire garden every week !! The photos above show a tiny section of the garden just after it has been plucked, very picturesque !
Two leaves and a bud are picked every week and this forms a new flush on top of the bush about 3 to 4 inches in height. When you see the leaves being plucked and realize that those leaves are simply broken up, fermented for an hour and dried, you just can’t wait to sample the finished product. There surely can’t be any beverage more pure or wholesome.
The botanical name of a tea bush is Camellia Sinensis and indeed there are many strains of Camellia grown in this part of the world, I have attached a photo of one at the Punjana factory (left), we planted a lot of them and they flower beautifully in the spring. So whether its China tea, Indian tea or Ceylon tea, it’s a Camelia plant. The different taste characteristics can be influenced by soil types, the altitude it is grown at and whichever clone is selected.
Assam tea is seasonal, the monsoon driving growth for most of the year, but in December the rains have disappeared. Production stops and the bush rests right through to March, when temperatures once again start to rise and the much needed moisture from the Monsoon returns. Whilst tea is grown in Assam from March through to end of November, we normally buy only June, July and August growth as this is well known for being the best quality period.
A bit more next time about exactly what happens to the leaf, from when it is picked off the bush, to the finished product ready for brewing !
I’m just back from a visit to some of Assam’s finest tea gardens, and I must admit, that wasn’t a bit like work ! These gardens are owned by Calcutta based McLeod Russell Group, who are possibly the finest tea growers in the world. They have a passion for quality, and go to amazing lengths to look after their workforce
It is impossible to describe the feeling you get when you first set eyes on these beautiful gardens. No photograph can capture the 360 degree view of a two thousand acre estate with every tea bush cared for like a prize exhibit. The flat top of the tea bush ( the plucking table) is as level as a snooker table and stretches as far as the eye can see. They pick two leaves and a bud off the top of the bush every week ! This new fresh growth looks so appetizing and healthy, you just can’t wait to taste a cup.
To turn these leaves into the tea we drink is a simple and completely natural process. Once picked by hand, these leaves are stretched out on huge racks to wither for 12 hours, that’s the slow bit. Then the leaves are chopped up into various particle sizes and left to ferment for about one hour. These leaves, now copper coloured, are
conveyed into a huge hot air dryer, where they float in mid air for about 20 metres, become completely dry and stay that way until you decide to have a brew !
I visited tea gardens called Phulbari, Pertabghur and Behali…. strange names I know, but I am really proud that our company is so closely associated with them, and for so long.
So what did I learn from this trip? I suppose I was reminded that Assam is an amazing place to grow tea, and when it is grown by people who are passionate and incredibly talented, it will continue to be the drink of choice for most of the world.
I’m off to India next week to visit some Assam ( North East India ) tea gardens. Some absolute beauties in fact, owned by McLeod Russel India Ltd, who are possibly the finest privately owned tea growers in the world. I will be landing at Pertabghur tea garden and from there travelling to neighboring Phulbari and Monabarrie tea estates.
Assam tea doesn’t grow all year round as it is seasonal, taking a well earned breather from December to March, so I’m getting there just in time.( I’m assured the bushes are in full flow, producing leaf at a rate which requires to be picked every week ! ). The Monsoon eventually dried up a few weeks ago so it is now warm and sunny on the estates..can’t wait to get there, see my next blog for an update.