In this part of the world we’re seldom begging for rain, but in Assam (North India) the ever-faithful Monsoon has kept them waiting.
Indian tea bushes have a well-deserved rest during the winter, December to April, but when “liquid sunshine” arrives in the form of the life-giving Monsoon, its tea growing time.
It kept us waiting this year, a few weeks late actually, and the tea bushes went on a go-slow but it’s arrived with a vengeance and flushing time is here (flushing is when the tea bush sprouts fresh leaves) and this is happening every 10-14 days … really !
Hopefully the crop will play catch up now because we love Indian tea, it plays a really important part in our blends, and we need to start making our purchases for this season. Let’s hope it’s a vintage one !
It seems that nowadays we call everything tea, even when there’s no tea in it !
Ok, I know I am a little inflexible sometimes but to me, if it’s not leaves from the Camellia Sinensis tea bush, then it’s not tea !
You see tea has always been made from the leaves of the Camelia Sinensis tea bush, which loves being grown in hot, humid climates. These leaves will taste a little different depending on whether the Camellia is grown in India, China, Kenya or wherever. The soil, altitude and temperature very much influencing its taste and flavour.
This amazing shrub can grow ( flush ) new leaves every 7 to 10 days for most of the year, and is happy to do this for over 100 years !
It’s not that I have anything against Peppermint, Camomile or Rooibos, they are herbs that do some very clever things, like lifting you up, calming you down, cleansing and refreshing you. It’s just that they are not ( strictly speaking ) teas, rather herbal infusions or tisanes…if you want to be posh !
Thanks for listening, I feel better now.
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!
How’s it done ?
1. Tea leaves are picked from the top of the bush ( which is a Camelia Sinensis shrub ) snapping the stem just below two leaves and a bud.
2. Baskets full of tea leaves are then carried to the leaf processing factory.
3. These freshly plucked leaves are then spread out on huge withering racks ( called withering troughs ) in layers no deeper that 8 inches.
4. Fresh air is blown slowly through the layer of leaves from below and then from above, this takes 12 hours and removes 65% of the moisture
5. The leaves are now floppy ( withered ) and are ready to be cut into varying particle sizes by a set of CTC ( cut, twist and curl ) rollers.
6. These tea leaf particles are then placed on a very slow moving rack with cool air gently blowing through from below. During the next 50 minutes oxidation will take place and the green tea leaves will turn quickly to a coppery colour. ( just like an apple if you bite into it and leave it )
7. We’re nearly there…the oxidized tea leaves are then transported by conveyor to a huge oven ( dryer ) where the leaves are dried by jets of hot air which keep the leaf particles in mid air and travelling for a distance of about 20 metres until they fall out the end of the drier and are collected, and graded into different particle sizes by sieves.
8. That’s it, pure, innocent and natural….just tea leaves that are picked, broken up and dried, waiting for you to rehydrate then with boiling water when you feel like a cuppa …..make sure it’s a good one !
So you want to be an Award Winning Tea Blender ?
O.K, just follow these simple steps :
1 Find the best tea gardens in Kenya and Assam, the ones who’s leaves have more taste and flavour and a beautiful colour.
( I’m afraid tea tasters all over the world agree which are the best, so you’re going to have to pay more than your competitors to get them ).
2 Be around all the time to taste the new growth because the tea bush can sprout fresh leaves every week and it won’t always taste the same.
( Every week,little foil sample packs of the fresh growth are air-mailed to you to approve or reject )
3 Study the rainfall in Kenya and India every week, because too much rain means the bush grows too quickly and the leaves are not as tasty.
4 Be very, very fussy and make sure you really love the tea before you purchase it and make it part of your blend.
( Imagine it’s your mother who is going to be drinking it, and don’t disappoint her ! )
* I forget to mention that Assam ( North India ) makes it’s best leaves in June, July and August so you have to store them at your factory for ages. That ties up a lot of cash but, worse still, they won’t stay fresh for ever so you pay more to have them Vacuum Packed….well you did say you wanted to win awards, didn’t you !