Chindu Chandran, Research Scholar, University School of Environment Management, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, India
Tea or Chai is the most widely drunk beverage in the whole world. India is the world's largest consumer and second largest producer of tea. The Indian tea industry has grown to own many global tea brands and has evolved into one of the most technologically equipped tea industries in the world. Top tea producing Indian states are Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Tripura etc. Out of all these producer states, Munnar from Kerala produces one of the best qualities of tea. It won’t be wrong if Munnar is referred to as “Chai Paradise”.
Munnar is situated at a high altitude in the southwestern state of Kerala. It was the summer resort of the Britisher’s in the colonial period. Munnar is a striking destination with the world's best and well-known tea estates. There are more than 50 tea estates in and around Munnar covering an area of 3000 hectares. A.H. Sharp planted the first tea sapling at Parvathi, which is currently the part of Sevenmallay estate. Currently, the whole area is covered with flourishing tea gardens spreading up to several miles. These tea gardens are owned by various private companies. Munnar is essentially a tea town. It is also famous for India’s first Tea Museum at Nallathanni Estate, along with the production of certified organic Green & White Tea, said to be quite rare & exclusive.
The Munnar teas are cultivated without interrupting the ecosystem of the Western Ghats. It has some of the highest growing tea regions in the world with some tea plantation at 2200 m above sea level. The interesting point about tea Gardens is that the taste of tea varies with altitude. Tea bushes are planted approximately 1 meter to 1.5 meters apart to follow the natural contours of the landscape. Earlier tea plants were raised from tea seeds which were known as seedlings. Currently, they are grown on specially prepared terraces to help irrigation and to prevent erosion.
Munnar orthodox tea is known for its distinctive clean and medium toned fragrance of sweet biscuit in dip malt. The golden yellow brew with an orange depth is a combination of strength and briskness. Munnar black tea produces a robust-bodied tea whereas the colour of the brew is golden yellow liquor. The flavour has a refreshing briskness and a hint of fruit. The aroma is quite medium tones and is a related to malted biscuits.
A tea plant has four grades of leaf and the same plant is used to make a variety of tea types, all determined by the leaf grade. The grading process is determined in the factory to save time during picking:
· Top leaf – white tea (best quality)
· Second leaf – green tea
· Third leaf – black tea
· Fourth leaf – tea dust (very strong, but low quality)
The various varieties of tea produced in Munnar are:
· Typical Munnar Tea
A characteristic tea of Munnar produces a golden yellow colour with a stimulating aroma. The tea is medium toned and leaves a fruity tinge after every sip. The fragrance is akin to that of a sweet biscuit dipped in the malt.
· Black Tea
The leaves, as well as the brewed tea, are dark in colour such that it seems to be oxidized. Black tea usually contains more amount of caffeine as compared to other teas and gives a strong flavour.
· White Tea
This type of tea is produced from leaves that are left to wither. These wilted leaves are dried and processed. White tea has a delicate and subtle aroma. It has less caffeine and is not as finely processed as Green Tea.
· Green Tea
This tea is finely processed and its oxidization is halted by steaming, baking, or pan-firing. The process preserves Vitamin C in the leaves, thereby making it healthy.
In this country, chai is so much more than just a cup of tea to begin the day – this sweet drink is an integral part of the beat of life. The custom of drinking chai in India surpasses all boundaries, and roadsides are dotted with chai wallahs (Chai vendors) who serve it boiled up with spices, sugar and milk. Indian culture is truly rich with numerous varieties of tea and associated uniqueness with them. The tea of Munnar is an epitome of Indian tea culture and is flourishing day by day.
Copyright images: Chindu Chandran