Factory Tour: Inside India’s Most Expensive Tea
A Tour of Makaibari Tea Estate in Darjeeling
As I wander the quiet streets of Darjeeling on the Himalayan foothills of India, a cool breeze whips through the surrounding greenery. I am on my way to Makaibari Tea Estate, known as the first tea factory in the world, which was founded in 1859. Some of the machinery in this factory are as old as 150 years.
Makaibari boasts that their teas are grown in harmony with the surrounding forests and mountains and that they employ and care for thousands of local people.
“For us our tea factory is a living organism, born 150 years ago built entirely in wood, bamboo and cast iron. It has grown organically in the years in different stages becoming a sample of living industrial archaeology perfectly functioning also today, preserving with care its unique atmosphere and heritage character. Healthy soil is healthy mankind”. – R. Banerjee
It is off-season, so this gives me a chance to inspect all of the machinery without getting in the way of the workers. Our guide Pranay explains to us what each element is used for. The racks pictured above are used in the ‘withering process’ where up to 70% of the liquid is removed from the tea leaves using hot air from underneath.
Then the leaves are pushed through the floor and into the rolling machine pictured below. In a circular motion, this machine crushes the leaves in the perfect way so as to release the tea smell and flavour.
Black tea is then fermented while white and green tea does not go through this process. Once fermentation is complete the tea goes through another round of drying. This time the leaves are heated to between 220° and 240°.
Next, the tea is sorted by quality. An impressive piece of machinery sorts the premium quality which is spat out of the top spout. Normal tea leaves come from the middle and tea dust, which is turned into tea bags, comes out of the bottom.
At least the management have a sense of humour!
The tea is then packaged and shipped around the world. Darjeeling tea is a favourite among tea connoisseurs. In 2014, Makaibari’s legendary ‘Silver Tips Imperial’ sold for $1,850 per kg, making Makaibari tea estate the producer of the most expensive Indian tea in the world. A Japanese buyer told the Times of India that the tea will be served for $45 a pot at the Ritz Carlton Tokyo Roppongi Hotel.
As the sun sets over the pretty hillside, I head back to my homestay in the small town of Kurseong. On my way, I come across a bunch of cute local kids peering over a door.
Homestays are common and a great way of tourists to experience local life. All homestays can be organised through Makaibari and include a private room and western-style toilet.
Place: Kurseong, Darjeeling
Language: The main language is Hindi. English and Marwari are spoken as well, plus hundreds of others.
Currency: Indian rupee (INR, ₹)
$1 USD = ₹64.09
I was here: March 2014
What is the most expensive cup of tea you’ve ever bought? For me, I think it’s $7!
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