In the mid 19th century, China tea bushes were brought to the Kangra region of Himachal Pradesh by the Scottish botanist William Jameson. Today Kangra produces about 800,000 kg of tea annually, a small amount of India’s total annual production of over 1.2 billion kg, according the Indian Tea Association.
A few weeks ago I went down to the Kangra valley to visit the Palampur Cooperative Tea Factory. On arriving there I was directed to a Mr. Singh, who was kind enough to give me a brief orientation and tour of the factory.
The cooperative works with around 250 tea farmers and is one of a handful of Kangra tea factories. The factory produces only black tea, and does not produce any CTC (machine processed leaf) tea. The standard pluck is “two leaves and a bud,” and the growing/plucking season is March through November.
The plucked leaves are first placed on “withering troughs” to remove much of the moisture in the leaves so they become pliable enough for processing. After withering, the leaves are rolled by machine, to make them smaller and more uniform in size. The leaves are then moved to a humidity-controlled area to undergo full oxidation. (This full oxidation is what distinguishes black tea from other teas, e.g. green, oolong, etc.).
Next the leaves are dried, to bring down the moisture content to around three percent. Finally the leaves are sorted and graded, after which they are packed and sent to Kolkata for auction.
From a bit of background reading I learned that the Kangra tea industry has suffered many ups and downs. Today the region is trying to make a resurgence, but continues to face several obstacles, such as labor shortages, urbanization, and competition from other tea growing regions within India. The Tea Board of India has provided assistance on several fronts, to promote the future success of Kangra tea.
But for a tea drinker, the most fundamental factor for success is: how good is the tea? I’ll be tasting some Kangra Tea, and I’ll note my impressions in a following post.
Bodh, Anand. “Brand New Kangra Tea Brewing in H.P. Kettle.” The Times of India. December 18, 2013.
Menon, Aparna. “Tea, the Kangra Way.” The Hindu. June 16, 2014.
“No Buyers for Kangra Tea.” The Tribune India. May 24, 2015.