Tea plantation in Munnar, India
Munnar is located in the southwest of India in Kerala, approx. 130 km from the coastal city of Cochin. Munnar is a popular attraction for travellers who want to relax away from daily traffic, city life and turmoil, due to its picturesque mountain scenery and the surrounding environment. But above all, the sleepy little city is dominated by tea farming: it produces the famous black and green teas which are being consumed around the entire world every day.
Some of the tea fields are located at an altitude of 2200 metres. above sea level. Hence Munnar belongs to the world’s highest located tea cultivation regions. Due to the altitude and climatic conditions, the tea of Munnar is of highest quality.
Munnar does not only offer excellent tea; it is surrounded by exciting tourist attractions, such as the Blossom International Park, the Chinnar game reserve, Anamudi, the highest peak in India south of the Himalaya mountains; and lots of other attractions. But above all, Munnar offers tranquility, relaxation and space. The tiny, picturesque town is surrounded by serpentine-like streets, tropical vegetation and most of all tea plantations as far as the eye can reach.
In China and Japan one believes that tea is the elixir for immortality and the nectar of gods. Different myths exist about the origin of tea. According to one, in 2737 BC the Chinese emperor Shen Nung accidentally discovered the miraculous plant when some leaves of a nearby tree fell into his kettle. Shen Nung noticed the encouraging and therapeutic values of those miraculous leaves and started to propagate the drink from that moment on. The Chinese actually believe that most of their botanical and agricultural knowledge comes from Shen Nung.
According to another Chinese myth, a herbal medicine man started documenting his entire knowledge about 84,000 plants. Unfortunately he died before he was able to finish it and just reported 62,000 plants. But then the miracle happened: a plant grew upon his grave, which was found to possess in itself the virtues of all the lost 22,000 plants – and that was tea.
Commercial tea farming in India started around 1778 with the East India Company, directed by the English botanist Sir Joseph Banks. In the „Kanan Devan Hills“ around Munnar, tea farming started in 1880. 89% of the world tea production, which are 3376 million kg (2005), comes from Asia; India is the biggest tea producer worldwide with a share of 28%. Within India, 23 % of the tea production is from Kerala.
The tea plant is actually a species of tree, which can live and being fruitful for around 100 years. When left to grow, it will reach a height of 12–15 metres; that it is why the plants are being pruned to 1 or 1.5 metres height and shaped like a bush to obtain a manageable height for effective plucking.
Due to permanent plucking, the bushes are permanently kept in the vegetative phase, ensuring sustainable harvesting. Depending on the season, every 9–13 days, the new-grown leaves and buds are usually plucked by women, based on the rule: „two leaves and a bud“, which means to pluck the two youngest leaves and one bud to ensure the best quality of tea. An experienced tea harvester plucks approximately 30 kg of tea leaves per day. To produce 1 kg of tea, 4 kg of tea leaves are needed. A single tea plant can produce 70 kg tea per year. Due to the climatic conditions of Munnar, approximately 60 % of the entire annual harvest is made during the high cropping periods from middle of April to June and from September to November.
Besides plucking tea leaves and buds other field operations include pruning, tipping (to ensure a uniform plucking surface after pruning) and manuring and shading (regulating shade which most of the time is done with shade trees such as silver oaks to improve temperature, humidity and soil quality on the tea plantation).
Teas are divided into three main classes: green tea is not oxidized, Oolong tea is partly oxidized and black tea is fully oxidized. Special teas include white tea and instant tea (which is water soluble).
For the production of green tea, it is necessary to stop the oxidation by exposing the fresh-picked leaves to high temperature. That can be done with steam or by roasting the leaves in a hot pan. After the heat related inactivation of the oxidation enzymes, the leaves need to be rolled and dried until there is a residual moisture of 2.5 – 3 %.
For traditional production of black tea (which accounts for 75 % of the world tea production), the tea leaves go through 5 stages: first of all they need to wither to become flaccid and pliable. They are being spread on drying tables and being dried for approx. 12–16 hours by blowing air for the gradual loss of moisture. The next step is called „maceration“ which has the purpose of breaking the leave's cells in order to make the cell sap get in contact with oxygen. For 45 minutes, the leaves are being rolled in several tandem rotary or reciprocating sifters. The next step is the fermentation for which the macerated leaves are spread in layers for 2 – 3 hours at a temperature of 25 – 30 degrees and moisture of 90%. During this process, the leave's colour changes from green to copper and develops the characteristic tea flavour. Afterwards, the tea leaves need to be dried again, which takes 10 – 25 minutes in modern drying machines. Finally, the tea particles need to be sorted into different categories of sizes and fibers and flakes need to be removed. That results in three grades of tea: complete leaves, broken leaves, and dust. Within these levels, experts make further differences. The levels do not define the quality of the tea.
Black tea is often additionally flavoured. In Munnar, natural flavours are used, such as lemon, ginger, cardamom, Masala, mint, orange, apple, rose, jasmine and peach.
World Learner tea program
You will stay for three nights at Greenview Inn in Munnar where you will spend the days with a knowledgable guide who can explain you everything about tea cultivation and processing. On the first day you will hike through a tea plantation and get explanations. On the second day you will visit a tea factory, where you can follow the several steps of the process or producing black, green and white tea. On the following day, you will meet plantation workers who will explain you their work on the plantation and will talk about their everyday life. You can ask questions and the guide will translate.
After these three days, you can extend your time in Munnar by staying at Greenwood Cottages, in the middle of a plantation outside of town. You are free to decide how to spend your time, such as hiking through the plantations on your own, or just relax in the middle of the refreshing green vegetation and tea trees, where almost every day the same change of weather takes place, which makes the tea flourish so very well in the area - sun in the morning and mist with high humidity in the late afternoon.
3 days World Learner tea plantation, including knowledgable guide and accommodation for three nights at single room without meals at Greenview Inn in Munnar 120 €. In case of 2 persons (sharing room) 80 € p.p.
Optional (extension): Accommodation at Greenwood Cottages 10 € per night in single room without meals; transfer from Greenview Inn to Greenwood Cottages is included. You are free to decide the duration of stay at Greenwood Cottages. Double room 7 € p.p.
We can arrange transport from Cochin (Kochi) International Airport or Ernakulam Junction train station to Munnar for 50 € per vehicle (seats 1-4 passengers) one-way.