Taking time out for tea in the Puncak

The tea plants carpet the hillside. (JP/Simon Marcus Gower)
The tea plants carpet the hillside. (JP/Simon Marcus Gower)

Withering, rolling, crushing, tearing, curling, fermenting, winnowing' onwards and onwards the process goes until finally packaging of the produce occurs. Who would have thought tea processing was so complicated?

Attractive bucolic scenes of tea pickers among tea bushes are one thing, but the actual processing of those humble tea leaves is quite another. Traveling in the rolling hills of Cisarua and the Puncak Pass area of West Java, it is possible to have a real appreciation of all the effort -- and indeed all the technology -- that goes into taking those leaves off the bushes and making them into something that can be brewed into a refreshing cup of hot tea or even an iced tea drink.

The Gunung Mas tea factory sits picturesquely among hills and tea plantations. (JP/Simon Marcus Gower)
The Gunung Mas tea factory sits picturesquely among hills and tea plantations. (JP/Simon Marcus Gower)

The agro-tourism destination of the Gunung Mas tea plantation is both a fascinating place to find out about the industrial processes involved in making tea and a place to relax and enjoy the benefits of cooler mountain air and countryside scenery. Even though this is where huge quantities of tea are processed and packaged -- massive stacks of 55 kilogram sacks seem to be everywhere -- there is generally a quiet and relaxing atmosphere here. The journey from Jakarta to Bogor and then on up toward Puncak Pass can be busy and intense. Hotels and villas line much of the way and so it is something of a relief to reach the greener areas of the tea plantation.

The access road is long, winding and narrow. Among the first things to be seen is a huddle of small horses waiting with their attendants for visitors to come and take a ride. Nearby there is a picnic area where families may be seen enjoying an outdoor meal and children chasing balls bought from stalls selling refreshments, keepsakes and toys. This is just the beginning, though, of the extensive plantation area and the facilities set up for visitors. The winding road continues onwards and upwards and passes through hills that are literally carpeted by the tea bushes. These rolling and tumbling hills that are swathed in green bushes are a substantial part of the attraction. Throughout and among the hills and their covering of greenery are footpaths, some more steeply inclined and challenging than others but all quite readily and easily accessible. It is via these footpaths that visitors may participate in "tea walks" which are essentially communal and sociable walks among the tea bushes. It is on such walks that visitors may encounter tea pickers. These ladies in their wide-brimmed hats carry heavy baskets on their backs into which they skillfully deposit the leaves that they have carefully and expertly chosen to pick.

Their picking is the first step in the long process from tea leaf to dried powder or leaf with which we brew our tea. Further up the hillside is a factory which visitors may enter to see the heavy industry and machinery of tea processing, but its technical details may be a bit beyond the layman. Guides will explain the processes of "withering the leaves in the withering trough for hours to reduce the moisture content", before moving on to the rolling stage which is the "CTC -- crushing, tearing and curling -- which breaks open the tea cells". The next process is "the fermentation stage that leads to oxidation to bring out the taste and color of the tea". All of this can be a bit mind-boggling but the guide will note that "this is the best processing of tea because there are no chemicals or additives in the process". The end result is black tea which is seen as a more full-bodied and robustly flavored tea.

There is understandably some pride and even some bias amongst the guides as they promote the benefits of the process and the outcome in the form of this strong black tea but this is a good thing. If they did not put forward such sentiments they really should not be working here. There are apparently more than 1,000 people working on this plantation alone but it covers about 2.5 thousand hectares so it is far from crowded. Many of these employees are in fact working in the tourism industry rather than the tea industry -- although tea is its central component. Within the plantation are bungalows that may be rented for those who did not just come for the day. There are also leisure facilities, such as a swimming pool, tennis courts and a small lake with paddle boats upon it, that all show that the site is far more than purely industrial.

For the more adventuresome and thrill-seeker types, hang gliding from one of the peaks can be arranged. But whether seeking a leisurely stroll or an active outdoor activity, there is simply no getting away from the tea and its production. This, however, is not a bad thing and a benefit to the body and mind. There is definitely an educational aspect to being able to see how tea is cultivated and then processed. We do, perhaps, in our heavily industrialized and developed cities take for granted the produce that we have such easy access to.

At this plantation it is possible to enjoy its final product -- tea -- right next door to the plantation's production and packaging centers. The humming and whirring of the machinery is not too disturbing, but in fact seems to add to the appreciation of what goes in to providing millions of us with the refreshing and remarkable beverage that is tea.

This article was taken from JAKARTA POST. Read the original article here