Last weekend, I visited the Nilgiri mountains- a region in the Indian state of Kerala that, among other things, is known for its forests and agriculture. I had been there at the end of 2015, when my aunt had purchased a plantation to grow tea, coffee, and other crops. I wanted to return this year, among other reasons, to show you how tea is produced. Next week, I will be sharing a video that shows you footage of the plantations, and how tea is harvested. For now, I wanted to give you a glimpse into the breathtaking beauty of tea plantations.
Tea grown in the shade of larger trees
The area of Nilgiri where we visited is divided amongst many independent owners. My aunt’s plantation is relatively new- only about three years old- and smaller than many others. Tea leaves grow on bushes, and her tea leaves are grown in the shade of larger trees. In the photograph above, you can see her plantation. Farmers work hard to tend to the plants and hand-pick the leaves. Like most of the farms here, her tea is collected in mass and sold to large conglomerates- in her case, Nestle- where it is processed in various ways.
Mist covers the tea plantation
About 20 minutes away from her plantation is a town called Cherambadi, where there are miles and miles of nothing but bright green tea shrubs on rolling hills- as far as the eye can see. This is the rainy season, so blankets of mist covered areas of the plantation like lace.
A tea shop in the plantation
I only had an hour in Cherambadi, as the rains were about to come. There was a local tea stall that served fresh tea grown from the plantation- the freshest tea I’ve ever tasted. The freshness was palpable, but the tea was over-brewed and over-sweetened, so it was too bitter for my taste. Nonetheless, it was a lovely experience. A local company also now gives safari tours of the tea plantation, but it was closed due to recent tiger sightings!
Elephant tracks in the tea plantation
There is a lot of wildlife in the forests surrounding the plantations, and many of these animals visit the tea plantations. The last two years have seen an explosion in the elephant population. In the photograph above, you can see elephant tracks among the tea bushes. Driving away, I even saw two families of wild elephants! Sadly, I wasn’t able to capture any photographs in time.
I tasted one of these tea leaves raw... yuck!
One thing I have always been curious about is the taste of a raw tea leaf. So, I picked a tea leaf off a bush and put it in my mouth. It was so bitter and pungent! On its own, I would never think that anyone would want to consume this plant- but it is remarkable how drying and steeping transforms the taste from something so intense into something so pleasant and popular.
A farmer collecting a large bundle of tea on the plantation
Tune in next week for a video on how tea is produced, and learn how organic tea production in India is different from conventional tea cultivation! I’ll be returning to the US on July 4th- it’s been a wonderful trip, and I can’t wait to share my best moments with you!