To actually try tea and see how it’s made, you’ll need to return back down the main road from Ilam as far as Kanyam (1hr 30min by Jeep). The tea factory here, built using British aid money in 1985, is the largest in the district. Once inside you’re likely to be welcomed with a short (free) tour and a cup of tea. The plucked leaves are loaded into “withering chutes” upstairs, where fans remove about half their moisture content. They’re then transferred to big rolling machines to break the cell walls and release their juices, and placed on fermentation beds to bring out their flavour and colour. Finally, most of the remaining moisture is removed in a wood-fired drying machine, and the leaves are sorted into grades. Ilam’s premium tea compares favourably with Darjeeling’s, and indeed most of it is exported to Germany to be blended into “Darjeeling” teas.
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