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The dried leaves of one or more broad-leaved evergreen shrubs or trees, allied to the CAMELLIA, are known as tea. The species is also designated as THEA SINENSIS and the word 'tea' is perhaps derived from THEA. The Chinese are known to have been the earliest tea drinkers in the world, although tea drinking was confined to the richer section of the society.

Varieties of Plants. The main varieties of tea are usually recognized:

  • (a) The Chinese variety, which yields a comparatively weak tea, and furnishes a small yield is widely grown in China and Japan;
  • (b) The Assam variety making strong tea is cultivated in other tea producing countries of the world; and
  • (c) The hybrid of the two is rather recently developed and is used when the old plants are replaced.

    Processing of tea. The picking of 'two leaves and a bud' or the harvest of leaves are followed by drying of leaves in the sun. Leaves are then crushed and fermented in order to reduce the tannin content by 50%. The fermented leaves are fried and eventually assorted into various grades of:

  • (a) black tea;
  • (b) green tea, for which leaves are dried thoroughly by heating as soon as they are plucked to prevent fermentation and to retain the original colour and flavor; and
  • (c) Brick tea is generally manufactured as tablets, which are composed of, compressed tea dust, leaf remnants and inferior leaves.

    Physical and economic conditions. Tea is hardiest of all subtropical plants and is grown in both tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Tea plant is not very much demanding in its requirement of physical conditions, and thus is found to grow under varied temperature. rainfall and soil conditions. Yet the best condition is provided by warm moist and equable climate. Rainfall should be on the higher side of 200 cm. Temperature should be 13°C to 24°C. The tea shrub requires a regular supply of moisture settling about its roots, so that rolling land and mountain slopes are found to be ideal. The soil best suited to the tea plant is virgin forest soil, a light, rich friable loam containing a good supply of humus, or of organic matter in some other form. The presence of irons either in soil or subsoil as is desirable, and hence, reddish soils are preferred. Soils in which tea is grown, happen to be remarkably poor in lime.

    The successful cultivation apart from temperature rainfall and soil to a large extent depends on the cheap supply of abundant labour in order to carry out the tedious processes of plucking, drying, fermenting and roasting the leaves. Women laborers are in great demand since the delicate process of plucking is best performed by the skilled manipulations of female fingers. The plantation is highly labour intensive and thus, is mostly developed in the densely populated countries of India, China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia and others.

    Forms of production. Tea is found to be cultivated in two distinct ways:

  • (a) On small farms or gardens as family enterprises; and
  • (b) On large estates or plantations where scientific methods of production, preparation and marketing have been primarily responsible for the great increase in the output and consumption of tea in the world during the past 100 years or so.

    Next: Tobacco areas

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