See how black tea is planted, processed and packed… and make your own professional cup of tea

September 19, 2018

Fatima Muhammad

Saudi Gazette

Over 4,000 years ago, the first type of tea was discovered in China. Since then, the plantation of the refreshing green leaves spread around the world with ever-growing tastes and flavors. One popular tea type is the black tea. Indonesian is now the world’s second top country planting high quality black tea only proceeded by Kenya said a top official at the government owned Wonosari Tea Plantation in East Java which has been in function since 1969.

Accompanied by Saudi journalists and officials from the Indonesian consulate in Jeddah, our group arrived at Surrabaya airport and after resting and having an a traditional Indonesian meal in Malang, the group drove 30 kilometers to a rural area. The Wonosari tea plantation started to appear from a distance -- Indonesia's tropical climate provides the perfect atmosphere for planting black tea said a Wonosari tea certified specialist who welcomed us with a cup of special aroma black tea. Currently, he said they export raw black tea to Singapore, Malaysia, China, Japan, India, Sir Lanka, Pakistan, UAE, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Russian, Poland, Switzerland, England, Netherlands, and Australia.

The Wonosari plantation area is spread over 600 hectares said Budi Karyono, the plant manager. Indonesia has four plantation areas in East Java. Up to 400 farmers work in the Wonosari plantation from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. to pick up carefully the very top leaves of the trees which are the flavored leaves most appropriate for production and distribution. Wonosari produces 900 tons a year; 80 percent of the production is exported while the remaining 20 percent is consumed locally. The machine process finalizes 60 percent of the work while the rest is finalized by workers in the plantation area and in the factory. The factory has 65 workers 12 of which are women who work in two shifts, six days a week. However, 60 percent of the workers in the field are women.

Tea packing process

After the leaves are plucked, they are spread over a large machine that dries them slowly for about 12 hours. Then 20 minutes are needed for the fermentation process and 20 minutes for final drying process. The tea then is tasted by certified tea specialists in labs, after that the tea is classified and packed. Karyono said that each raw black tea kilogram is sold internationally for $2.3 while for local consumption the kilogram is sold for US$1.11. Indonesia has seven different black tea types four of which are international quality tea types, two are also exported to a select group of countries while the last one on the list is only consumed locally.

Tea evaluation process

Kardimo, a certified tea taster who has over 30 years experience in tasting tea and distinguishing its different types, said they follow strict steps when tasting tea. The process starts with picking tea leaves, drying them and then adding them to boiling water. The tea is then pored into a cup and all bubbles are removed from the top. After that, Kardimo takes one spoon and fills it with tea, then transfers it to another spoon so it can cool and then quickly tastes it. The ideal taste: Flavorful in the beginning but with a bitter finish.

To become a certified tea specialist, the individual is required to join an institute and undergo an evaluation at the end of the study period by a panel After five years of on-the-job training the individual will be capable of distinguishing the different types of teas and classify their quality. At this level the individual can sit in the lab doing the tasting for two to three hours non-stop. However, more training is required to reach Kardimo’s level as he can sit for a complete working day tasting the different tea flavors and classifying them without mixing the light difference between high quality types. He normally tastes the tea twice within the factory process first after drying and second before packing.

Professional tea making is possible at home!

Kardimo’s recipe for homemade black tea starts from carefully choosing fresh tea that is not in teabags. To make a perfect homemade cup of tea you need to boil water to 90 degrees, add 2 grams of raw tea to 50 milliliters of boiling water, leave it for a while then add the desired sugar. "The tea said should look red, you should smell the tea, taste a fine flavor but with a bitter taste at the end," said Kadimo while also cautioning against boiling the tea leaves with the water as this tends to affect the taste, flavor and aroma. To store the tea at home, he suggested putting the tea in a glass container and putting it in the freezer.

If you want to experience agro-tourism with family or friends, Wonosari Tea Plantation is the perfect destination. You can see how tea is planted, harvested, manufactured and at the same time breath some fresh air. It is about 80 kilometers from Surabaya and only 30 kilometers from Malang.

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