Since the tea leaves are picked constantly, like here in the Gao Shan region of China, litteraly meaning “High Mountain”, the tea tree cannot grow any bigger. It is maintained, harvest after harvest, at the most convenient height: not too low, so the task is not made more difficult, and not too high, to stop parasites developing at the base of the plants. The tea trees are kept at between knee and waist height, depending on the region and the climate.
In the south of Sri Lanka the altitude is low and the vegetation very dense. The tea plantations, which are small in this region, are surrounded by luxuriant vegetation. The teas produced here are known as “low grown”, unlike the teas grown in the very mountainous centre of the island, called “high grown”. But take note! A low grown tea is not of inferior quality, on the contrary. Because of the greater care taken when processing the tea leaves of low grown plants, they often achieve better prices at the Colombo auctions.
As I was mentioning it in a previous post, tea requires delicate care. Tea plants appreciate a bit of shade, especially if the sun is strong. In the hottest regions, trees are planted to help the plants and give them some cover, like here in the Nilgiri mountains (India).
Contrarily to Darjeeling and Assam, the tea produced in the region is mainly black crushing-tearing-curling (CTC) tea and harvesting occurs all year round. This straightfoward process applied to low quality leaves makes a tea with little taste, often found in tea bags…
So, not very good teas in this region, but beautiful landscapes, charming little villages (Coonoor, Munnar), gardens growing spices, hills covered with cardamom plantations… An appealing region to say it short.
All tea plants are members of the Camellia Sinensis species, but there are a great many cultivars, each with their own unique characteristics and qualities. Some are more resistant to the cold, for example, or to certain parasites. Others produce a more abundant crop.
Here, in Feng Qing, near Lincang (China), tea planters breed a wide variety of cultivars in order to experiment with grafting, for example, to produce new hybrid tea plants.
I visited this tea garden last year between two tastings of Pu Er, the main tea found in the region and manufactured from a cultivar called “Da Ye” (big leef).
Moreover, it’s here, near Lingcang, that the old tea and horse exchange road comes by.
It was the British who introduced and organised tea growing in India. They created large tea plantations called tea estates. Keen to retain the comforts of home, they built charming, typically British cottage-style houses.
When I visited the Thiashola Tea Estate in India, I was lucky enough to be able to stay in this tea grower’s house. It dates back to the nineteenth century. Nestled on the edge of the jungle, it overlooks the tea, the clouds and the Deccan plain. What a joy to arrive there, surrounded by flowers, to contemplate this unique landscape and enjoy its rare silence. A feeling of being at the edge of the world. Total isolation. The moment I loved best: at dawn, pulling on a sweater, going outside and sitting on the front steps, a bowl of steaming tea in my hands, admiring the glowing red sky as the sun rose.
There are many tea plantations around this Japanese peak, but it’s not easy to find a spot where you can only see the tea garden with Mount Fuji in the background. You have to drive around the narrow back roads, keep turning round… It requires patience. And when you reach your goal, don’t expect solitude: the Japanese are keen photographers, and there is a real cult attached to their favourite volcano… There were at least a dozen Japanese around me when I took this photo.
The purpose of my blog is to allow you to take part in my travels. I spend a large part of the year visiting tea plantations. The landscapes are often magnificent, the people I meet very welcoming. I’m learning more about tea all the time.
It is these landscapes, these people, this knowledge I’d like to share with you, if you wish. This blog makes a lot of sense to me: what’s the point in doing your dream job if you don’t share it?
I love this photo taken near Fuding, in Fujian province, China. I like the gentle movement of the rows of tea plants. And this beautiful house, so peaceful, buried in the greenery. I didn’t want to leave.
On the tea plantations in India, there is a system for looking after the babies and infants. The babies are placed in hanging cribs while their mothers pluck the tea leaves in the fields. There is no roof, just a canopy. The mothers take turns to look after the little ones, rocking them while they sing lullabies. As you walk around the tea plantations you often hear their gentle singing.
Sometimes you don’t even need a seed to produce a tea plant, in fact it’s very common not to. Instead, you take cuttings from a carefully chosen parent plant. You remove one tea leaf together with a few centimetres of the shoot, and plant the whole thing in compost. The roots then form and the shoot grows into a mature tea plant. The covered area where these young shoots grow is called a nursery. Photo taken in Darjeeling, India.
Let’s get back to our little seed of the tea plant. Once the grower has selected the good seeds, he buries them in plastic propagating bags filled with soil and fertilizer. He places the bags in the shade and waits two years before planting the tea plants out into the ground. A year later, when they are three years old, the tea plants can start to be harvested.