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Savouring Assam's Tea Estates

Khongea, pronounced Khong-gee-aah, is one of Assam's Tea Estates owned by the same family who own the Glenburn Estate in Darjeeling. Although established in the late nineteenth century by two English tea planting ladies, Khongea has been managed and owned by the Prakash family for over 50 years. Today it is one of the highest yielding gardens in Assam, an is often used as a model by the tea industry. Mr G N Singh is one of the longest serving managers in the industry and his passion for the tea bushes is one of the reasons why Khongea has such amazing field statistics.

[caption id="attachment_2454" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Though oonly mid morning, we were treated to an amazing lunch at the bungalow at the bungalow[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_2456" align="aligncenter" width="700"]hot ladies! 30C and 100% humidity Hot ladies! 38C and 100% humidity[/caption]

It was a quick tour, but the hospitality still impresses me to this day. We were visitors from Canada and treated like queens and kings. Thank you, Mr. Singh!

Amgoorie and Borbam were to be our last overnight estate visits. We actually toured Borbam, but had to be divided up to sleep. Our hostess was Nasheet, the beautiful wife of the estate manager. She welcomed us with a tea trolley upon which sat a teapot covered with a tea cozy and a plate of cakes and cookies! It was a British welcome as these Assam tea estates, like Castleton in Darjeeling, are owned by the Goodricke Company.

Amgoorie

Security was tight and a bit unnerving. We were accompanied by guards and at first I thought we were not to be trusted in their minds. But with further investigation I found that some of these estates are targeted by rebels. Of course I tried not to let my imagination get the better of me!

Borbam is ranked amongst the top CTC gardens of Assam, and its teas are known internationally as well as in the premium markets within the country for their quality produce. CTC means Cut Tear Curl, a method developed by Sir W.G. McKercher, Borbam's first manager, which mulches and pulverizes the leaf. This process is less time and energy intensive than the orthodox method and results in a higher cup per pound yield. Therefore, with the demand of tea bags being so high, these estates produce for the tea bag market. The manager of Borbam told us at breakfast that delegates from Barbours, which owns King Cole tea (a Maritime favourite tea bag) are frequent visitors to his estate!

[caption id="attachment_2461" align="aligncenter" width="664"]cupping with milk added cupping with milk added[/caption]

Since most black teas manufactured as CTCs are consumed with milk, cupping is done with and without milk so as to better define the taste. I always have my black tea with milk, but sometimes the finer blacks, manufactured by the orthodox method, I enjoy without. But the CTCs are definitely stronger, so milk is a must for me!

The Tea Research Association in Toklai, Jorhat had a remarkable guest house ready and waiting for us. The staff had a cool drink and rooms with air conditioning and fans for back-up!

[caption id="attachment_2473" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Such service! Such service![/caption]

When we arrived in the afternoon, we stepped out of the air conditioned vehicle into heavy humid air that was almost suffocating. We were given the tour of a campus of scientists, doctors and biologists whose main job in life is to study tea. Not being a natural in the lab in my high school days, I found this particular part of the trip a little less exciting, but in spite of that 'oh no, it's biology class' feeling, I was awakened to the passion that emanates from those who study the science of tea.

[caption id="attachment_2465" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Researching cloning Researching cloning[/caption]

Tea under the microscope, studied for cloning, for pests, for climate adaptation was an exciting subject. Someone had to direct all of this so that you and I could enjoy a cup of tea!

[caption id="attachment_2466" align="aligncenter" width="640"]In a lab with the technicians and researchers In a lab with the technicians and researchers[/caption]

That evening, once again we were wined and dined at a dinner hosted by Mr. Bezboruah, vice chairman of the TRA at Cinnamara Bungalow, a home no longer used as a tea estate bungalow. His wife told me that plans were underway to make a tourist/guest house out of it. It, too, was palatial and certainly needed a live in hostess. Hmmm...food for thought!?

We had a visit to another one of Assam's tea estates the next morning en route to the airport. Hunwal Tea Estate is another McLeod Russel Estate whose manager, Amand greeted us so warm-heartedly. He gave us a quick tour of his factory where both orthodox and CTC manufacturing is done.

[caption id="attachment_2468" align="aligncenter" width="640"]orthodox orthodox - wilting leaf[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_2469" align="aligncenter" width="640"]CTC machinery at work CTC machinery at work[/caption]

There was a wonderful atmosphere of cheerful tea workers who loved posing for pictures!

[caption id="attachment_2470" align="aligncenter" width="640"]the girls the girls[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_2471" align="aligncenter" width="640"]...and the boys with Louise ...and the boys with Louise[/caption]

This was a great way to end our tour of factories in an amazing tea country. As we said good-bye to our talented driver, Rajeev, we clapped and sang his praises. He got us to the airport alive! What a neat guy! He said many times over the course of our Assam adventures, "Anything is possible in India!" I could not agree more! Good-bye Rajeev. Good-bye India.

[caption id="attachment_2472" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Good-bye Rajeev Good-bye Rajeev[/caption]
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