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In their own words | Stories from our partners | Murali Subramanian

The mainstay of tea in China, small-holders are now on the rise in black tea country of  India, Kenya, Malawi & Sri Lanka.  In the latest of our series 'In their own words | Stories from our partners' we meet Murali Subramanian producing flavourful Nilgiri green and black teas from his 5 acre tea garden in the Nilgiri Mountains of Southern India. Two new teas you can now enjoy at Comins.

This in depth journey into Murali's world once again shows the dedication required to bring great tea to your cup.  

"My name is Murali Subramanian and I manage our family tea garden near Ooty [Udhagamandalam] in the Nigiri Hills of South India.

My tea journey started with my love for the Nilgiri Mountain. I live in Coimbatore city, just 80 kilometers from the tea growing Nilgiri region. While the summers are hot and humid in the plains of Coimbatore, Nilgiri is a paradise with its cool temperature and rolling mountains covered in greenery. We wanted to buy a small cottage as a summer getaway but ended up buying a 5 acres tea garden. We had no idea how deep we would get into the tea business at that time. The garden was naturally maintained and the general practice in this tea growing region is, pick the leaves and send it to nearby factory where they mass produce CTC grade black tea to be used in Indian Chai.

My brother who lives in the USA is a big inspiration behind us switching to specialty tea. Given our high mountain (2000m/6800ft) location, he told us we could produce leaf grade green/black/oolong teas. His only request is, it should be done organically.

In the next couple of years, we built a small cottage at the garden, assembled a dedicated team and imported few machines (2 Rollers/ 1 Dryer/ 1 Withering machine) from China.

Although the machines are Chinese, the agricultural practice is unmistakably Indian. Agriculture in India is at least 12000 years old. With its deep emphasis on respect for the soil and all the animals, Indian agriculture continue to sustain a huge population to this day. A small Indian farmer with few acres of land and a couple of cows can keep the farming self-sustainable. We want to tap into this farming lineage and keep our tea garden on a self-sustainable mode. We have over 500 Cypress trees at our garden. The plants are grown under abundant shade and are cultivated using Indian Panchagavya techniques. The Sanskrit word Panchagavya means "mixture of five cow products". Panchagavya is a concoction prepared by mixing five cow products and used in traditional Indian agriculture. In addition to ward of pests and diseases in plants, the use of Panchagavya is said to impart a more fruiter, earthy aspect to tea leaves. The tea leaves are handpicked and processed carefully by the dedicated team to produce the finest leaf teas that Nilgiri has to offer.

I have now worked in tea for 7 years and love the fact that I can grow something that is so delicious to drink and uplifting for the mind.

The excitement for me comes from making it all happen. From picking tea leaf to packing finished tea, everything must happen at the right time. Our dedicated teamwork makes it happen. We eagerly wait for each batch of finished tea to see how it has turned out.

Of course there are daily challenges for us here - because we are a small garden with limited marketing budget, there are some challenges on the marketing side. Without big brand recognition, it takes time to find the right buyers who appreciates the whole package that we offer (from quality of organic teas that we make, how sustainably we manage the garden, the above market wages we pay to our workers and how we provide year around employment so they have a stable monthly income).

What does a typical day in tea look like for me?  I live in Coimbatore and travel to the garden every Saturday to pay weekly salary to workers and pick up any finished tea. [Map Source :]

The team at the garden (see below for details) have been with us for years and I have given them hands on training. Tea sorting, packaging and shipping happens from Coimbatore location. A typical day for me would be like below,

  1. Talk to people at garden in the morning and plan the activities for the day.

  2. Check the newly arrived finished tea and do a taste testing.

  3. Sort the newly arrived tea. Tea sorting is done by hand and takes up bulk of the time.

  4. Sorted tea is put into air tight containers and tagged with batch number & date of manufacturing.

  1. We do sell packaged 100g leaf tea in local organic stores and to direct customers.

  2. Check the email and work the phone to see if any orders need to be processed for the day.

  3. Talk to people at the garden again in the evening and see how things went for the day.

At least 3 cups of fresh black tea and 3 cups of green/oolong keeps the day going for me.  My personal favorite is Nilgiri black leaf tea. With its smooth taste and fruity aroma, it is a class on its own. Sometimes I eat biscuits with black/oolong tea. And I never eat anything with green tea.

We have 6 people employed at the garden. A family (husband, wife & their child) live in the farm house. We provide year around employment, pay them above the market wages and give them yearly Diwali festival bonus, give them advances and help them however we can. Attrition rates are extremely high at tea gardens and the fact that our workes have been with us for years is a testimony to how to treat them and care for their wellbeing.

Following is a typical day at the garden when leaves are ready and available. If leaves are not ready then workers are given cleaning, de-weeding and pruning tasks. A lot depends on the weather and the condition of the tea leaves.

  1. Plan activities for the day. Typical activities include, leaves picking, black, green & oolong tea processing, tea bushes pruning and cleaning.

  2. Workers arrive at the garden by 9.30 am and get ready for leaf picking.

  1. If previous day’s leaves have withered sufficiently then start the rolling process for the black tea.

  2. Get the wood fired dryer going. Btw, we use tree trimmings from our own 500 trees and use them as firewood. We never cut or buy wood from outside. This is an important part of our self- sufficiency & recycling process.

  3. Get the steamer going for the kill-green green tea processing.

  4. Mid-morning tea & biscuit break.

  5. Spread the rolled leaves for fermentation.

  6. Leaves picked before lunch arrive at the factory. Sort the leaves and let it wither.

  7. Lunch break between 1 - 1.45 pm

  8. Load the leaves into the steamer for quick steam and then air dry.

  9. Load the steamed leaves into roller and then on to the drier. After heat drying, let the leaves air dry.

  10. If fermentation is done, load the fermented leaves into the dryer and then let it air dry.

  11. Afternoon tea & biscuit break.

  12. Workers bring rest of the picked leaves, freshen up and leave by 5.30pm.

  13. Sort the leaves and let it wither overnight.

  14. Final round of short duration drying again to make sure moisture content is within 5%

  15. Pack the finished tea in bags.

Thank you for reading our story , we hope that knowing where your tea comes from adds to your experience of fine Nilgiri tea and we would love to hear your feedback!"

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