Whilst in Darjeeling, we decided to visit a tea estate – when in Rome and all that. And there is nowhere quite like Makaibari tea estate. Spread over 1,100 acres of primary rainforest, 550 acres of it being tea, this is one of Darjeelings largest tea plantations. It’s home to over 400 indigenous birds, unique species of insects found here and know where else in the world as well as the most beautiful exotic flowers that embellish the blankets of luscious green tea for as far as the eye can see.
During our stroll, an orchard began to unfold amongst the bushes and packed full of scrumptious goodies. In this photo alone there is a mango, banana and plum tree as well as a coffee bush. An ideal spot for breakfast.
At Makaibari you stay with a local family, all of which work within the tea estate. The family we stayed with were lovely and fed us with crackers and rice wine. I struggled drinking the wine though which was a first for me, it tasted like nail polish remover so I went on a search for plants to water. Unfortunately they were all plastic, I think previous visitors had the same idea and killed them all off!
The loo was at the bottom of the garden which I loved! I felt like I was in the 1900’s.
The community at Makaibari is how I imagine the Welsh Valleys were when the coal industry was in full swing. Everybody knows everybody and there is a huge sense of community. Our homestay actually reminded me of my Aunty Teresa’s house in the Rhonda Valley, no work top was bare, sofas were cluttered with cuddley toys and the walls were covered in eclectic and occasionally flashing paraphernalia.
Considering Makaibari exports worldwide, I was shocked to learn that the pluckers (who are always women, never men) earn the equivalent of £1.30 a day. This is less than an average slum worker.
Being here is like stepping back in time, technology hasn’t evolved since the Brits left, in fact the original British machinery is still in use, leaves are still plucked by hand and all produce is organic.
These flowers act as a natural tea fertiliser, pretty and practical.
Tea goes through a variety of processes; withering, fermenting, rolling, drying (where the leaves are oxydised) and finally sorting. Black tea goes through all five processes, green tea skips the drying stage and White tea is rolled then taken straight to sorting which is why it is the best kind of tea – it is not oxydised making it the purest – good for post Christmas detox! Oolong is a mixture of black and green leaves so is partly oxydised.
Dried out tea seeds.
During our tour we bumped into Sangita the lady who’s house we were staying in, she works in the sorting section of the factory.
During our tea tasting I discovered that silver tips is my favourite, these leaves are plucked during a full moon. It turns out this is the most expensive tea at £18 per kg, I always knew I had expensive taste 😉
Luke’s favourite was first flush which means they were the first pick of the season. First flush is paler and weaker than second flush which is darker and stronger as it has had more time to mature on the bush.