Tea

So I was wrong about where my colleague wanted to take me. It wasn’t to visit his home place, but to visit his friend who is the quality manager of a Tea factory.

And the cabbage (me!) didn’t take his camera! What a fantastic trip! Two matatu rides up to the green highlands by the foot of the Abberdares. And a trip round the factory to see all the processes (I had no idea what they all were) and how they use superheated steam to warm the air that they blow past the leaves to whither them, and so on. Fabulous. And with a very knowledgable guide. It was alike a private lesson in tea production.

My colleague, a short fellow, and I (not so) were bedecked in white coats and baseball hats and we must have looked like some sort of comedy duo as we trailed round the factory asking odd questions and trying not to be sucked into big ducts with powerful fans in them.

And finally to the “lab” to taste the different grades of tea, and a cup of nice tea to round it all off!

5 Comments

  1. Tyg Says:

    Cup’o chai, sir?

  2. Lydia Says:

    Wow! Which way round did you wear your baseball hat?

  3. Jan Main Says:

    😀 Hey that sounds really good fun and what was the T like ?? good ? and did they only do black tea or did they have green at all ? and flavours ??shame about the camera as you two must have look really funny !! and Hey did you get my email and how are things ?? love sis ..xxx

  4. Mark Says:

    I just wrote a long description of the whole visit here, including all the processes, including the "ball breaker". But the poxy fucking Nairobi cybercafe I’m in have dodgey internet and the whole thing went the way of all data (/dev/null). :angry: 😥

  5. Mark Says:

    The tea arrives in tatty-looking sacks, such as I saw, when I was a kid, on the backs of indian women on some ‘tea-cards’ in a toffee tin in the cupboard in our old house in Lowestoft. It was even the same bright lime green colour.

    The sacks are weighed on some sophisticated digital scales and then hung, by their tatty rope handles, on the hooks of an overhead conveyer whence they are whisked up into the higher levels of the factory, to the whithering beds. Up to the whithering beds we went too, via stairs.

    Upstairs the fresh tea leaves are lain out on tables where conditioned (warmed) air is blown over them for six or so hours until the moisture content has reduced to 67% (IIRC). Once thus whithered, the leaves are scouped up by women workers and dumped onto a conveyer belt that takes them and dumps them into the CTC machine on the ground floor.

    Downstairs the Cutting, Tearing and something-else-that-begins-with-C machine cuts, tears and …erm… chews the tea shoots to open all the cells in their leaves. Thus masticated, the resulting soft green granules are left in bins with more conditioned air blowing through them to ferment. Fermentation takes 90 minutes during which time the temperature of the leaf-mould is measured and plotted on a graph (blackboard) above the bin. Painted on the blackboard is the curve that the temperature is expected to take: up first then then down.

    The air is conditioned (warmed) by radiators filled with superheated steam from the boilers out the back. When fermentation is complete, the green leaves have turned yellowy brown and are carted off and shoveled into the Ball Breaker (I kid you not) which makes the big lumps into smaller ones (and was the source of amusement on our visit). Immediately after the ball breaker is a giant vibrator (!): a vibrating conveyer on which even more heated air is blown over the tea lumps. (Lumps isnt the technical term for the stuff but the only better word I can think of is granules which has a strongly coffee connitation). First very hot air is used to halt the fermentation, then hot air to dry the fermenetd lumps. What comes off the end of this conveyer is, in essence, the black tea we all know and love.

    The last process is sorting: the tea passes through various wire meshes with varying hole sizes, the whole thing propelled by more vigorous vibration. Tea of various gagues emerges and falls into sacks round the machine. I didn’t reralize that the flavour of the tea depends on the size of those lumps. The larger the lump the less surface-area per mass there is and this affects the amount of oxygen available to the oxidisation reaction in the fermentation process. Large lumps have less oxygen and, as a result, have more flavour but less strength. The fine powder has lots of surface area and results in strong bitter tea popular in arab countries. The middle grade fetches the highest price and much of that is exported to the UK.

    The graded bags of tea are put into storage and then, when there is enough, packed into 80KG sacks and sent to Mombassa. Samples from the sorting machine are taken and sent to Mombassa and also Nairobi for tasting and valuing. The customers themselves taste the tea and come up with their price. If there is a big disparity between that price and the one given by the Mombasa tasters the results of the samples sent to Nairobi can be consulted as a third opinion.