Adventure in India – A Giant in Tea

It is difficult, if not impossible to take a journey through the Indian world of tea without stumbling upon the largest producer of tea in the world…McLeod Russel.  When I say the largest producer, I mean 100 million kg per year, across India, Africa and Asia, employing over 90,000 people.  Large indeed.  I visited two of their estates while in Assam, Hunwal and Keyhung.  Both of these estates produce some of my favourite breakfast teas – full bodied, malty Assam.

Teagirl grew up on black tea – black tea with milk and sugar.  And I guarantee you that if I’m feeling down and in need of a hug, short of an arm around me, I will opt for a strong cup of Assam with some milk and honey.  It makes me feel safe and happy.  So being in these two estates and cupping their wonderful teas gave me a sense of home.

What I want to talk about however are the types of teas that are produced in these factories.  And by that, I mean CTC as well as Orthodox production.  These are two different production types used for tea – CTC being a cut and size that is focused for the ‘conventional’ industry, teabags.  The reason I want to focus on this is because I did cup a lot of teas in Assam, at Hunwal and Keyhung included, which were CTC.  Now some of you may be turning up your nose, but that is exactly why I think this is important to say.  CTC comes in many different grades and qualities – as does Orthodox production.  And I assure you that I have tasted fabulous in both and not so fabulous in both.

I have heard endlessly over the years, by consumers and colleagues alike, that what is in teabags is the dust off the floor, and I have tried tirelessly to explain that it is not.  I have walked the floor of these factories and seen the same amount of care and dedication used in the fields in plucking right to the factory for production for both CTC as well as Orthodox leaves.  Comparing the two and holding one up against the other, is like comparing an apple to an orange – unfair and unjust.

The reality is that 90% of the tea industry is made up of the ‘conventional’ teas.  I have witnessed so many of my specialty colleagues look down on this sector and I can’t tell you how strongly I feel about the fact that it needs to stop.  The ‘conventional’ industry has paved the way and is actually the one that has largely financed the health studies on which we have based a large portion of our business’.  The ‘conventional’ industry produces quite simply a product that serves a very specific purpose, it is convenient and it builds stronger fuller flavours quicker.

I assure you however that it is most certainly NOT the dust off the floor.  I have shared with you above the meticulous notes taken in the processing log book for the production plan on the day I visited Hunwal estate.  Does this care and detail look like something that is the dirt off the floors?

I have chosen to focus my business on specialty, this does not however mean that I am better than or superior to any other portion of this industry.  We have a lot to learn in the west about respecting the product…tea…regardless of its format.

Thank you McLeod Russel, for opening your doors to us and showing us the delightful flavours in both your Orthodox and CTC teas.

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