Ooty or Udagamandalam is a famous hill station in India known for its natural beauty as well as its huge tea plantations. My last visit to Ooty brought me close to a tea factory. The making of an item which we use in our daily lives and which some can’t go without was an interesting rendezvous.
The tea factory is indeed a two-storied building turned into a veritable museum of tea. The entry ticket is for a minimal Rs 5. The entrance is from the second floor which is a huge hall with driers for the tea leaves. The entire hall is lined up with boards depicting the history of tea-making and how the art spread in India. The tea leaves are cut and spread over these driers from where they are sent to the first floor to be cut, twisted and curled into the tea we know today. In fact, the phrase “CTC Tea” is not a brand name. It actually means cut, twisted and curled form of tea. Seen below is a chain of 5 CTC (cut, twist, curl) machines. The leaf is cut, twisted and curled when it passes through these toothed, high speed stainless steel rollers which run in opposite directions.
The leaf that comes out of the roller is spread on the fermenting floor. The leaf is spread in the form of beds, usually of 4 ft width and 10 ft length, with a thickness of not more than 3 inches. During fermentation, the leaf reacts with oxygen in the air and changes color. The ‘dhool’ which are spread on the floor slowly turn copper red. At a particular point when smelt, a fruity fragrance is identified which indicates the ‘dhool’ are ready for drying.
The dried tea now passed through an elevator and falls into a machine called the Fibromat. As the name indicates, it helps remove the fibre in the tea. At the end of the Fibromat is a mesh that separates the dust from the leaf.
There are two shifters, one for the dust and the other for the leaf. The leaf tea is granular in shape and graded into Pekoe, BOP, BP and BOPF according to their sizes. Similarly, the dust tea is graded into Pekoe dust, Red dust, Super red dust and Super fine dust according to their sizes.
The tea leaves are given flavors like cardamom and ginger as required and packaged in the tea factory. In fact, the normal tea leaves we use (black tea) is the basic CTC tea. If the tea leaves are extracted before the fermenting process, we get green tea. The dust is packaged into tea bags which are ever so popular these days.
The tea factory has a small shop on the first floor near the exit which promotes the teas it produces by selling them to the general public. The best promotional tactic followed, however, is the free tea that is distributed to all and sundry. The hot cup of delicious cardamom tea warms your hands and hearts in the cold weather of Ooty and elevates you to sublime heights. But only the first cup is free. For another one, you have to shell out two bucks from your pocket.
The making of tea as we know it in our daily life is an out of the world experience not easy to forget. The tea factory is a must-see when visiting Ooty.