Here in this informal Q&A we will be asking a leading guru in the tea world a bit about him and his history. You can follow his tea journey with us on instagram.
Nalin is responsible for the tea production at many estates and we are grateful to be able to call him a good friend. As part of our ethos, we pay a fair rate for our tea over and above other larger tea companies. This allows these tea estates to be able to pay a fair living wage resulting in happier people with a healthier tea estate.
Due to Nalin’s expertise, skill and forward thinking about tea farming practices we have been granted an opportunity to source tea from some very exclusive estates that only produce a very small amount per year.
These limited teas are from; Temi Tea Estate, Lakyersiew Tea Estate, Nuxalbari Tea Estate
Q. How did you start in the tea industry and what did you do?
I came to Darjeeling at the age of 19 I liked the place very much and start applying for the job of trainee assistant manager in tea plantation. Luckily I received a reply from one plantation known as Nagri Tea Estate belongs to Mrs Tara P Madhawani and they appoint me as a trainee assistant, from here my passionate tea journey began...
Q. What is your current role and what do you do?
At present, my job is tea consultant for the manufacture of high-quality teas and to improve their organic field practices to produced best quality leaf possible so everybody can benefit.
Q. What estates do you work for? And why do you like working with them?
At present I am responsible for looking after Temi Tea Estate, Lakyersiew Tea Estate, Nuxalbari Tea Estate Terai region of Darjeeling, and Washabari in the start of Doors region foothills of Kalimpong, Darjeeling all of them are following genuine field practice in the field and following my suggestion for manufacturing good teas that taste better and give back to our communities.
Q. Diving into the tea plants, we know that tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis but what subspecies are typically planted by these estates?
In Darjeeling tea plantation has five varietals or subspecies of tea plants. These are var. China, China hybrid, Assam, Assam hybrid and certified clones.
In Terai and Doors region the majority tea plants are clonal to get more yield per hectare and since the climate is warmer than Darjeeling, we choose the high yielding clones for more yield of tea leaves as these conditions are suited to them.
Q. When are the tea plucking seasons? For white? Green? Black?
Normally plucking season start in Darjeeling from last week of February to mid-November. For white tea, we suggest to the estates to pluck and produce during March and green tea during monsoon season as the plant is able to take up lots of water and grow many new soft leaves. Besides this, the last week of February to mid-May is the first flush and then a two week lull period until the start of June to mid-July is the best second flush. Mid-June to the end of September is the monsoon flush and from the beginning of October to mid-November, the delicate autumn teas are produced.
Q. That's fantastic thanks Nalin, so once the tea is plucked can you give us an overview of the process it goes from plucking to our cups?
After leaf is been plucked it goes through this process Withering, Rolling, Oxidation, Dryer, Sorting. This is all dependant on the type of tea we are wanting to produce. For example, black tea goes through all of the processes whereas white tea is plucked and dried (sometimes oxidised)
Q. How do you approach each processing of the tea leaves for the different types of teas? What do you look for in each part of the process?
During the withering, I looked for correct removal of moisture during 12 to 14 hours without damaging the texture of the leaf this is a very important process. During rolling, I condition the withered leaf very gently and then I apply appropriate pressure in the roller to rupture the cells of aroma and see that it's getting rolled properly with two leaves and a bud during around a half an hour process.
During the oxidation process, I see the correct spread of the rolled leaf and maintain a low temperature to develop maximum aroma and colour changing take place within given time of the oxidation... during this I keep a check on the level of the aroma and once I feel that it has reached the correct balance I transfer the leaves to the dryer.
During the drying process, I see the correct spread correct inlet temperature and correct run through time to have three percentage moisture in the finished product.
During sorting of the dried leaves, I look to take out four grades without breaking or adding anything the four grades are whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings and lastly dust (which is used in tea bags)
Q. How have you seen the tea industry change over the years and what would you attribute that to?
Oh, lots of changes... Many scientific approaches to increase the yield of the fields, lots of experiment to increase the quality and aroma, changes in pruning cycle, clonal plants increase in the plantation, reducing Assam plants and behaviour of tea plants and massive changes in climate conditions too.
I personally prefer to favour my tea plants. By that I mean, not to force tea plants to produce more, I motivate my workers by sharing more information about how our neighbourhood is increasing and achieving the yield and maintaining the quality... I always follow the correct methods of field practice looking and keeping the climate in my mind and my success is to respect nature of humans, respect nature of plants, respect nature of the universe and after giving respect to all three. Only then I believe I can mix my care with them to perform and produce best-tasting tea possible.
Q. What are some of the challenges within the tea industry near you?
This is a big one but I will keep it short. The day to day cost increases we are facing, the changing market, workers not showing up due to the move to big cities and away from the country. But the biggest of all is to balance with the change of climate and getting proper returns from the plants. This is getting much harder and harder.
Q. Certainly some challenges we are all facing with climate change, how do you relax? What is your favourite tea to drink at the moment?
At the moment to relax I'm drinking the first flush from Temi Tea Estate. This is my favourite because of fruity and mellowness. I cannot wait, but during the Autumn season, I love drinking delicate Autumn teas we produce. I will make sure you will be able to bring some of these to your customers.
Q. Thanks so much for sharing. What are some of your proudest 'tea' moments to date?
• When I become a manager at the age of 31
• When I made record production at Tukdah Tea Estate during 1995
• When I produced my first oolong after a trial of 29 days and sold for very high price per kilo during 1996
• When I achieve a high average price for Gielle Tea Estate during 1999
• When I made muscatel second flush hand rolled tea in Mozambique 2014
• When we achieved a very high price in tea auction at Kolkatta for Temi second flush last year 2017, I think you actually have some of this tea for your customers :)
Thank you very much for your time Nalin and I look forward to catching up in India shortly.
I hope this is okay and thank you, Alan I am greatly looking forward to it. You are a good friend.