Tea Fog  Tea Slopes Tea with TreeTea Mountains Tea PathTea View

The tea slopes of Darjeeling: Surely among the most beautiful places in the world.

The town of Darjeeling is around 2000 metres above sea level; Barnesbeg tea estate, where I honeymooned, is about halfway down the slope from there.

The climate is therefore somewhere between that of the sweltering plains below, and the bright chill of the summits: Perfect for growing oranges and tea, and for getting away from the heat and the smog without freezing.

Verandah We stayed in the manager's bungalow, an obviously colonial building; if not for the Kanchenjanga massif in the background and the deities decorating the inside, it could easily be an English country house.
Tea Buds  The tea plant, camellia sinensis, is an evergreen shrub, which will grow into a tree if left unchecked. In tea gardens, it is always pruned to encourage new, tender growth, and keep it down to the size of a bush. The buds and top leaves are plucked to make tea.
Tea Blossom The flowers are sweetly aromatic, tender and rather beautiful. They play no direct role in the tea-making process.
Tea Seed Pod The seed pods are tough and rugged; the seeds are large and round, like split wooden ball-bearings.
Drying Troughs

After picking, the tea is placed into troughs for carefully controlled wilting, over the course of about half a day.

There are two wilting processes at work here: chemical and physical. The physical wilting and drying are controlled so that they roughly coincide with the chemical wilting - the tea breaking itself down, a process which improves the quality of the final product.

Hot Air Ducting

Enormous hot-air pipes speed the physical wilting when the ambient temperature and humidity demand it.

Rolling Machines

Rolling Machine Parts Rolling Machine Detail

Great big rolling machines break down the cell walls of the tea leaves, allowing oxidation to begin in earnest - the reaction which makes the main difference between green, oolong and black tea.

After this, the leaves only take about an hour to blacken as much as ordinary black Darjeeling tea demands.

The oxidation (often misleadingly referred to as 'fermentation') creates most of the caffeine in the final product, and changes the flavour completely.

Green Tea Roller-Steamer-Dryer

For green tea, a special machine quickly breaks down the cell walls using steam, and dries the leaves out using a combination of heat and centrifugal force.

The quick drying prevents oxidation from occurring, so that green tea is much richer in antioxidant catechins than black tea, and much lower in caffeine.

Darjeeling actually produces substantial amounts of green tea (and also some white, and tiny quantities of oolong), although it is far better known for its excellent black tea.

Giant Drying Machine 2

Giant Drying Machine

Once the black tea has been oxidised, mighty drying machines evaporate most of the moisture out of it.

Sorting Machines

The final step in preparing the tea, short of packaging it, is to grade it by size. Gloriously elaborate machines achieve this end.


A grand old cast-iron furnace provides heat for the tea factory. This was originally made in Britain, and shipped all the way to India several decades ago.

Tea Equipment

A hygrometer measures the amount of water in the processed tea; it mustn't contain more than 3% moisture, or it is liable to spoil.

What little moisture does remain allows certain chemical processes to continue, very slowly; it always takes a while for the tea to reach its destination, so the tea is processed with this in mind.

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