Anything that involves tea is a work of art – Be it the picking of tea leaves, blending, tasting and even brewing. The picking of tea requires great proficiency which comes with experience. The best tea pickers in the world have an eye for detail.
Tea being one of the best beverages across the world has thousands of different varieties, cultivars and comes from various regions. The whole process of growing tea is monitored and contrived to create desired flavour profiles. For example, in some regions the colour of tea leaves varies with the altitude. The leaves on the highest elevations are bright green in colour, very rich in flavour and healthier too owing to the presence of more anti-oxidants.
The story of a bud with two leaves
Tea connoisseurs would be familiar with the buzz behind the phrase- a bud with two young leaves. Its one of the most romanticised methods of picking tea – such a plucking method ensures that the youngest and softest leaves are picked. The process involves picking the stalk with two young leaves along with a bud. The quality of tea leaves suffers if more leaves apart from the ones on the tip are plucked. It is said that around 10-12 kilos of tea leaves can be harvested per day by this method. Note that the tea picker would need to have an amazing pincer grip as it involves pinching the twig such that it sits between the thumb and forefinger making sure the leaves are not crushed. Such careful picking entails a gentle snap of the twig with the bud and 2-3 young leaves. Now who is to debate whether this is an art or not! No wonder it’s the womenfolk who excel at this task. The tea leaves harvested by this method are graded as premium and hand processed in a professional manner.
Clutch and Tear like an expert
The handpicking of a bud with two leaves is time consuming and requires great expertise while the clutch and tear method helps in plucking more leaves in one haul. At the advent of spring season, all the fresh leaves that are sprouting are harvested. The tea pickers are familiar with the mother leaves (leaves that grew the previous year) and the baby bud leaves of the current year.
In this method the whole twig with fresh tea leaves is clutched and torn off in an upward motion so that it gathers in one’s palm. The real beauty of this method can be seen as the expert harvester ends up having a floral formation of tea leaves in the hand when skilfully plucked. It is to be noted that very few regions adhere to this harvesting method.
Pick the Whole Stalk
Much like the clutch and tear method, the leaves are plucked in an upward fashion but the difference is that the plucking is inclusive of the green stalk too. The twig that is harvested will only be removed during later stages of processing. It is unsure whether one method is better than the other as the twig is removed eventually.
By now you might have understood that the whole process of tea picking requires nimbleness and patience. It is no mean feat to say the least nevertheless the tea pickers do it with great joy. Its not an uncommon scene to see groups of women in the tea estates humming on their way to work, chatting and playing around with their peers but once the work begins its serious business.
Whenever you sit down to enjoy your tea think of the women who head to the fields with baskets balanced on their heads painstakingly plucking tea leaves with their perfectly skilled hands. The estates are serene albeit for the low humming yet the job is tedious and mundane. That’s how it has been for hundreds of years.
As you get lost in the aroma of your favourite cup of tea, may it never be lost on you that those tea plantations were carefully tended to by farmers who ensured optimum growing conditions for them to flourish.
Plucking the fresh tea leaves, tending to them with utmost care and coaxing the best flavours out of each leaf is pure artistry. Each cup of tea is a work of art, may you never forget that!