Tea plantation South India are located on the Western Ghats, the eastern part of central Kerala and adjoining part of Tamil Nadu, usually at an elevation of 4300 ft to 6200 ft. above sea level. The high ranges of Munnar were earlier known as Kannan Devan Hills, named after a certain Kanan Devan who had been a landlord in the Anchanad Valley on the Eastern side of the district. Tea cultivation started on the Nilgiris in 1832 on an experimental basis, and later in 1878 was taken up on the Kanan Devan Hills in Munnar. Today, tea is cultivated on 24,000 hectares of land in Munnar, Peermade and Devikulam areas with an annual yield of 50,000 metric tons.
Tea or Chai is the most widely drunk beverage in the whole world. The tea plant, Camellia Sansis, is a cultivated variety of a tree that has its origins in an area between India and China. There are three main varieties of the tea plant - China, Assam, and Cambodia - and a number of hybrids between the varieties. The China variety grows as high as nine feet (2.75 metres). It is a hardy plant able to withstand cold winters and has an economic life of at least 100 years.
The Assam variety, a single-stem tree ranging from 20 to 60 feet (6 to 18 metres) in height. Regular pruning keeps its height to a more manageable 4 to 5 feet tall. It has an economic life of 40 years with regular pruning and plucking. When grown at an altitude near that of Darjeeling (Assam) or Munnar (Kerala), it produces tea with fascinating flavours, sought after around the globe.
History of Tea
Behind this everyday brew lies a colorful and fascinating story that meanders its way through the social and cultural history of many nations. According to ancient legend, tea was discovered by chance by a Chinese Emperor in third millenium B.C. as some tea leaves floated into his boiling pot of water from somewhere.Whether this is fact or fiction, we will never know. In fact, there was no written reference to tea until the third century B.C., until a famous Chinese doctor recommended it for increasing one's alertness. Most historians however agree that tea was used in China long before this date.
Tea entered its 'golden age' during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century AD. Tea entered the age of rituals and traditions. No longer drunk simply as a medicinal tonic, tea was taken as much for pleasure as for its restorative powers. The preparation and service of the liquor developed into an elaborate ceremony, while the cultivation and processing of the leaf were tightly controlled.Tea became important enough during this period for a group of merchants to commission the writer, Lu Yu, to compile the first ever book on the subject - Classic of Tea. All tea produced in China was originally green.However, with an increase in trade during the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368 - 1644), the Chinese growers were challenged to preserve tea's delicate qualities during its long journeys, as far afield as Europe. The solution was the invention of new processing methods to make black and flower-scented teas. Ming producers found that fermentation was able to preserve tea leaves, making them suitable for the long overseas journey. And though Europe's first taste of tea was green, the fashion gradually changed to black as Chinese growers altered tea production methods to suit the logistics of distant trade.
Tea bushes are planted 1 metre to 1.5 metres apart to follow the natural contours of the landscape. Sometimes they are grown on specially prepared terraces to help irrigation and to prevent erosion. Fifty years ago tea plants were raised from tea seeds and they were known as seedlings. Each plantation grew its own seed bearers in tea trees which grew to a height of approximately 25 metres. These young plants are raised from the cuttings obtained from a strong and rich bush. They are carefully tendered in special nursery beds until they are 12-15 months old and then planted in the tea gardens.Trees are often planted in between the tea plants to protect them against intense heat and light, particularly on the plains of Assam and Kenya, where sunshine is most intense. The trees also provide microclimatic and soil improvements. Geometric spacing are used, often in quite wide spacing. This, again, ensures uniform treatment (shade) and ease in mechanized operations. Common shade trees are Erythrina, Gliricidia, and Silver Oak.
When the tea plant is allowed to grow wild and unfettered it becomes 10 mts high. To simplify cultivation and stimulate the production of leaf buds, they are regularly pruned and shaped into flat-topped bushes of about one metre in height. When the plant develops to a height of about half a metre above ground, it is cut back - pruned to within a few inches off the ground - to set it on course to develop into a flat-topped bush. Generally, a tea bush is 1 to 1.5 metres in height. Regular 2 to 3 year pruning cycles encourage the supply of shoots, the flush which is plucked every week to ten days, depending on where it is cultivated. The tea leaves are mostly hand plucked. The tea plant is plucked every 5- 10 days, depending on where it grows. The length of time needed for the plucked shoot to redevelop a new shoot ready for plucking varies according to the plucking system and the climatic conditions. Intervals of between seventy and ninety days are common.