Kerala. The other land of tea
We know that tea is produced from a tree. Of Kerala, we have heard some suggestive names: Pondicherry, Cochin or Malabar. What else?
Puzzling and fascinating India. In the southwest of this vast peninsula, is Kerala. Between Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, it is the green region of the country, already known for its spices, visited for ages by merchant come from China and the Middle East who made it a major stopover.
In the 16th century, Vasco de Gamma created the first Portuguese counter, in Cochin. Then Dutch, French and English people stop, linger and settle down there. The British Empire soon annexes whole India, focused on the economic potential of Kerala.
Let’s note that this land is vast and fertile. Rich in long beaches with palm trees, in channels (backwaters) invaded of boat-houses where fishermen live, Kerala hides another treasure: the chain of Ghâts which peaks at 2 695 meters. Eucalyptus forests abound in precious botanical species and valleys are cultivated for a long time already.
And more, the region counts a peaceful ethnic majority speaking a single language, Malayalam. A rare unity in India of the Maharajas!
Meanwhile, a beverage made from a wild plant spreads, such a powder trail, from valleys to valleys, from foothills of Himalaya to the North of India, particularly in the province of Darjeeling. That is tea, of course.
In 1880, a British imports Chinese plants and creates the first tea plantation in the heart of Ghâts, in Munnar.At the time, they knew that tea prospers at high altitude and needs reasonable volumes of water. A tropical climate, a luxuriant flora and the steep slopes of Ghâts which facilitate the evacuation of waters: these ideal conditions are going to make of Kerala the new homeland of tea.
Nowadays, it is called Valley of teas. Plantations prospered thanks to the labour of a feminine workforce, master in the art of picking and processing of the tea leaves. More than ten thousand hectares of fields give to the landscape looks of bright green gardens, crossed by narrow paths running away in all directions. Even the Indians made of Kerala a choice destination for their honeymoon.
Travelers walking there are sometimes surprised there is no smell of tea. Nothing unusual: only processing of tea leaves can expel their specific aromas.
From tea tree to the cup
As the magic potion became the emblem of some proud Gauls, the tea – already preferred by the British – became a national drink in India. Here, they call it Chai. Black, white or spiced, tea is everywhere in the tiny shops of Chai Wallah. And each knows that, whatever is its color, the tea results from the same plant.
Leaves are dried, cut several times, oxidized then dried again. Shavings are packed in our tea boxes and bags.
This processing gives the green tea. To obtain a black tea, it is necessary to add a few weeks of fermentation. The rarer and more expensive, white tea, is prepared from young fresh foliage and small buds naturally scented.
Today, the province spreads out all over the world its Nilgiri and Munnar teas.
That is how this vegetal gold changed the fate of Kerala.
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