After many close calls on the narrow, winding road and liberal horn honking by our driver, we finally arrived at the Sungai Palas Tea Plantation (safely I might add).
First, we explored the processing plant where a tour guide attempted to explain all the intricacies of tea making to us. Unfortunately, the sound of the machines overpowered her educational attempts and left me as clueless as ever. Good thing there were signs hanging near each step so I could get a vague gist of the process.
Apparently, after harvesting the tea, the leaves go through a rolling machine that crushes the leaves and breaks up their cells. This helps to release the juices within the leaves for fermentation.
The broken green leaves are left in a flat tray and exposed to air for up to two hours. This part of the process is important and monitored closely because it is when the leaves’ characteristic flavors are developed.
Next the leaves pass through the dryer, which burns rubber wood branches and creates temperatures up to 100 degrees Celsius. The 20-minute drying process halts the fermentation, and the leaves come out crispy with less than three percent moisture in them. At this point, they look a lot like the tea leaves we’re used to seeing.
The dried leaves pass through sieves of various sizes. This essentially removes the last bits of large fibers and separates the tea into grades. The finer the blend, the better quality of tea it makes.
And of course, after every tour you must exit through the gift shop and café. Here you could buy all kinds of tea-related products – skin care, perfumes and food. You could also buy snacks and desserts and sit by a floor-to-ceiling window with gorgeous views of the surrounding plantation. This alone is probably worth the visit, especially since I don’t even drink tea or coffee.
While I waited for the others to eat their snacks, I wandered around the small museum space that explained the plantation’s history. They were displaying some really interesting tools and machines used to harvest tea in the old days. I don’t think I’d be one to work in the fields (although, I suppose it’s in my genes since my grandma worked in the sugarcane plantations on Kauai), but I do have to respect all the hard-working people who help bring such an everyday product into our lives.