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Hill Top Travel and Tour – BOH Sungei Palas Tea Centre

By on August 25, 2015 in Malaysia

As part of the Hill Top Travel Tour, we visited the BOH Sungei Palas Tea Centre, and it was surprisingly interesting.

I have been drinking tea for decades (well, I’m British), and in the last two and a half years I have been living in Malaysia I have drunk BOH tea, so it was nice to come and see where, and how, it was made.

I must admit I was surprisingly ignorant of the manufacturing process, and if I had been asked before my visit to the plantation I think all I would have been able to tell you was that tea was made from a leaf and that the leaf grew on a bush.

The first stage of the process is to pick the leaves. This can be done by hand, by a single person using just their hand, or a set of shears…

or by two people using a ‘state of the art’ picker (below). No matter how you look at it, the methods of picking are primitive and not at all automated…

Next, we get to processing, which is split into a number of stages:

Withering: In this stage, the freshly cut leaves are spread out into trays, or in troughs, with perforated beds for drying. As part of the process, air is blown through the leaves using powerful fans.

The withering process is complete once the leaves have lost 40 – 50% of their water content and they take on a flaccid (floppy) appearance. This process also starts a series of chemical changes in the leaves which gives them the final flavour. The process is usually carried out overnight.

Rolling: The next morning the withered leaves are taken and rolled. This process breaks open the cells of the leaves and release the juices that are required for fermentation.

Fermentation: The fermentation step is actually oxidation. During this process, the enzymes in the leaves are exposed to oxygen, and the juices are fermented. The broken (rolled) leaves are spread out onto trays. The process takes 90 – 120 minutes and during it, the originally green leaves turn a coppery colour.

This is a critical stage of the manufacturing process as it is during this step that the characteristic flavours and aroma of the tea develop, hence the process has to be carefully controlled.

Drying: After fermentation, the leaves are dried for around 30 minutes using hot air (up to 100°C). The drying process halts fermentation and the leaves will have their moisture content reduced to around 3% of the original level. The fermented juices from the previous step will crystallise and it is these that will be released when the tea is finally made for drinking.

Sorting: The final stage is sorting. During this stage, any stalks and fibres will be removed and the tea will be sorted by leaf (particle) size using a series of vibrating sieves. The different size leaf particles will produce teas with different aromas and tastes.

I found the tea plantation very interesting (I learnt something), and I also found the fields of tea strangely relaxing, and I don’t know why…

May be I found the fields relaxing because of all the neatly trimmed bushes?

Which worryingly reminded me of the folds and patterns you see on the surface of a brain…

The size of the plantations amazed me.

They seemed to go on forever.

And while part of me was grateful that there was all this tea out there, part of me didn’t wonder if the efforts and the land couldn’t have been put to better use.

Then again, the land being used was particularly hilly, and I would guess would be difficult to farm for other crops.

Up close the tea plant is nothing but a bush and the bit of interest is the fresh green leaves on the top.

Apparently, of the tea isn’t regularly harvested the bush will grow into a tree. So, it would seem that they are really tea trees, and not tea bushes, and what we are seeing is a form of Bonsai tea tree…

Most of the pickers at the BOH tea plantation lived on site…

Overall it was an educational and very interesting visit. The cup of tea served in the onsite cafe was excellent, but sadly the scone was very poor.

FourSquare: BOH Sungei Palas Tea Centre

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