India - Part 6 - The Joy of Work

A wonderful greeting at Dikom Tea Estate.

A wonderful greeting at Dikom Tea Estate.

This is part 6 of my Indian tea adventure. You can read earlier entries here.

On our first full day in Assam we visited two places in a row that I think showed how finding joy in your work can help you do great things.

First we visited a very unique place called Assam Heritage Tea. This is a small, family run operation with a focus on taking in leaves from small growers and turning them into something extraordinary. On their website the manager, Rajen Baruah says: "The world is full of dreamers, hence, one should move ahead and take concrete steps to actualize ones vision." Mr. Baruah's vision is to "make teas that evoke beautiful emotions in people all over." Having tasted his tea I can say that he is accomplishing his goal. In his small office Mr. Baruah showed us the most surprising tea I saw in Assam. 

He is the only producer of white tea we saw in Assam. White teas are usually made in China is small quantities, although Darjeeling now produces some lovely white teas as well. I have to say that the white tea at Heritage was absolutely stunning. Easily my single favourite cup I drank in all of Assam. Hats of to Mr. Baruah and the amazing Heritage Tea team.

A white tea that knocked my socks off.

A white tea that knocked my socks off.

Another of Heritage Tea's creations.

Another of Heritage Tea's creations.

Mr. Baruah builds lots of his own machinery so that he can achieve the exact results that he wants. If something doesn't exist that can help him achieve his vision, he'll just invent it and make it happen.

The team is also involved in tea production outside of Assam in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh. Mr. Baruah says he goes out there every spring to an area in the hills around the Chinese border that is about 5 hours walk from any roads. They carry in their hand built machinery and get involved in producing tea way out in the middle of nowhere. Now that sounds like an adventure!

The commitment to doing something outside of the ordinary at Assam Heritage Tea was inspiring. We only got the chance to visit with them for a very short time and they made a very strong impression on me.

Next we headed to Dikom Tea Estate where we were given a very warm welcome. We were greeted by a group of beautiful dancers and our foreheads were smudged with red powder. We were invited to join the dancers and I managed to muddle my way through without falling, so I'll count that as a victory.

We were given a tour around Dikom Estate where quality is everyone's focus. Everywhere you look there is a reminder of the power of dedication in the workplace.

A painted sign at Dikom.

A painted sign at Dikom.

Another stylish factory tour outfit, this time featuring a hip baseball cap.

Another stylish factory tour outfit, this time featuring a hip baseball cap.

Assam is known for its production of a type of tea known as CTC. This is the kind of tea that many people are used to: tiny little brown leaves of the kind you'll find in a tea bag. CTC stands for "Crush, Tear, Curl" which is the process that the leaves undergo. After being withered (see last week's blog for more info about that) the leaves go through three chopping wheels that shred the leaves into smaller and smaller pieces. Then the leaves oxidize until they turn from green to a dark brown. After that they are dried with heat and then sorted into various sizes using a sieve system. Different sized leaves are good for different uses (tea bags, loose leaf, beauty/health products, etc). Finally the finished leaves are packed.

Although the CTC process looks mostly automated, it still involves careful and attentive people from start to finish that all help to make a great product.

CTC (cut, tear, curl): The green leaves are being torn into smaller pieces by turning wheels.

CTC (cut, tear, curl): The green leaves are being torn into smaller pieces by turning wheels.

Oxidation: The tea travels along a conveyor belt in the open air. As the oxygen reacts with the tea, the tea turns from green to brown.

Oxidation: The tea travels along a conveyor belt in the open air. As the oxygen reacts with the tea, the tea turns from green to brown.

Drying: The oxidized tea goes through a hot, vibrating conveyer belt, drying it to around 4% moisture content.

Drying: The oxidized tea goes through a hot, vibrating conveyer belt, drying it to around 4% moisture content.

Sorting: The tea is sorted through vibrating sieves into different grades.

Sorting: The tea is sorted through vibrating sieves into different grades.

It's always an absolute delight when we get to interact with the tea workers. At Dikom we met some of the pluckers and they tried to teach us how to pluck tea. This was far more difficult than it looked and gave us a strong appreciation for the people who do all the smaller tasks that add up to produce beautiful tea. The people who tend to the growing plants, pluck the leaves, transport the leaves, operate the machinery, package the tea, all the way to the people who sell it, everyone is an invaluable part of this industry and if everyone performs their task with dedication and joy the most amazing things can be accomplished.

Tea pluckers showing Louise the ropes.

Tea pluckers showing Louise the ropes.