As we made our way in a Mahindra Commander jeep from Chinnakanal to Kolukkumalai , I commented on the many potholes in the road to our driver. He grinned and said the bad road is yet to come. A few minutes later , I realised what he meant.
Kolukkumalai is a small village in the Theni district of Tamil Nadu and is about 38 km from Munnar town in Kerala. The last 8 or 9 kms is through a winding dirt track with breathtaking views of the hills and tea plantations. At the end of the bone-rattling drive, there is an old tea factory. Sitting prettily between the hills looming on either side, this is the highest organic tea estate in the world.
The drive up is pretty harrowing. It is possible to navigate this non existent road only by foot or in a 4 x 4 like the Commander we hired. With loud Tamil songs blaring from the speakers, we made our way up holding on for dear life!
The hills on either side of us were lush green with tea plantations and the mist covering the hilltops made the whole scene surreal. On the way up , we stopped at a few viewpoints and took photos but none of the snaps do justice to the beautiful scenery. One has to see to believe it.
We took a guided tour of the factory, where tea is still produced in the old fashioned way ( CTC is the newer method of tea production).
The tour takes one through the various steps of the processing of tea leaves. First , the leaves are dried in hot and cold air where they change colour from green to brown. Then, the leaves undergo a process called rolling. Here they are twisted and broken, releasing the juices. Following this, roll breaking is done to separate the fine twisted leaves from the untwisted bulk. Then, the leaves are spread out on a clean floor to start process of oxidation or ‘fermentation’as it is called in tea production. This process gives the coppery red colour of infused tea and the aroma typical of tea.
The tea leaves then undergo drying to remove excess moisture. Lastly, fibre extraction is the last step where impurities are removed. The final product is graded based on size and quality . BOP i.e Broken Orange Pekoe is considered the best and makes for strong tea whereas Flowery Orange Pekoe is finer and lighter.
After this very informative tour, we went in for a tea tasting session. Drinking warm tea against the backdrop of the hills and in the midst of a plantation – ah, bliss!
We also bought a few packets of tea to take back home. Now, when I make tea, I think back to magical Kolukkumalai !
To get there , hire a jeep with driver. It costs Rs 1000 per person from Chinnakanal and Rs 1500 per person from Munnar town. It takes about one hour from Chinnakanal to the factory.
The guided visit is Rs 100 per person. Tea tasting costs Rs 10 per cup.
Read more about Munnar here.