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Tea Plantation

Tea is, of course, Darjeeling's most famous export. From its 78 gardens, employing over 40,000 people, it produces the bulk of West Bengal's crop, which is almost a quarter of India's total.
     
T
he tea from some of these estates is of very high quality. The world record for the highest price paid for tea is held by some fine leaves from the Castleton Estate in Darjeeling, for which a Japanese bidder paid US$220 per kg!
     
A
lthough the area has just the right climatic conditions for producing fine tea bushes, the final result is dependent on a complex drying process. After picking, the fresh green leaves are placed 15 to 25 cm deep in a 'withering trough' where the moisture content is reduced from 70% to 80% down to 30% to 40% using high-velocity fans. When this is completed, the withered leaves are rolled and pressed to break the cell walls and express their juices onto the surface of the leaves. Normally two rollings at different pressures are undertaken, and in between rolls the leaves are sifted to separate the coarse from the line. The leaves, coated with their juices, are then allowed to ferment on racks in a high-humidity room, a process which develops their characteristics aroma and flavour. This fermentation must be controlled carefully since either over or under-fermentation will ruin the tea.
    
T
his process is stopped by passing the leaves through a dry air chamber at 115 C to 120 C on a conveyer belt to further reduce the moisture content to around 2% to 3%.
    


T
he last process is the sorting of the tea into gardens. In their order of value they are: Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (unbroken leaves), Golden Broken Orange Pekoe, orange Fannings and Dust (the latter three consisting of broken leaves).
     
I
n the last few years modern agricultural practices have been brought to the tea estates to maintain and improve their viability. The tea plantations were one of the first agricultural enterprises to use clonal plants in their replanting scheme, though most of the tea trees are at least 100 years old and nearing the end of their useful of even natural lives. The ageing plants and deteriorating soil causes grave concern, since tea not earns the country valuable export revenue, but also provides much employment in the area. With the collapse of the USSR the Darjeeling tea planters lost their best customers and have had to look for new markets. Some have simply switched to growing cardamom, which is more profitable. There's not a big home market for Darjeeling; most Indians prefer the stronger Assam variety.
    
T
he most convenient plantation to visit is the Happy Valley Tea Estate; only two km from the centre of Darjeeling, where tea is still produced by the 'orthodox' method as opposed to the 'Curling, Tearing and Crushing' (CTC) method adopted on the plains. However, it's only worth going when plucking is in progress (April to November ) because it's only then that the processing takes place. It's open daily from 8am to noon and 1 to 4.30 pm, except on Monday and Sunday afternoon. An employee might latch on to you, whisk you around the factory and then demand some outrageous sum for his trouble.



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Victoria Memorial India Museum Eden Gardens St. Paul Cathedral Tiger Hill Senchal Lake Kanchenjunga Dhirdham Temple Gymkhana Club Llyod Botanical Gardens Gompas Flower Nurseries Nature Interpretation Centre


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