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A Rendezvous with Tea Pluckers at Chota Tingrai

John Grams

As an outsider, you would not realize that the most critical success factor for a tea plantation is its pluckers.

Obviously, tea gardens need large work forces for collecting the several tons of green leaf produced by the plants daily. But plucking tea is not easy- it is a skill learned over years, taught from mother to daughter for generations. Tea bushes require the plucking of specific leaves to maintain their health.

When the tea pluckers taught me how to separate out the two leaves and bud from the bush, I was surprised at the specific type of twist it took break off the leaf, and how quickly the pluckers were able to identify the point on the stem to twist. It would have taken me 20 minutes to pluck an entire bush. An experienced plucker can do that same work in 20 seconds.

Additionally, tea leaves are surprisingly fragile. Pluckers must gingerly hold the leaves in their fingers as they flutter around the bushes, plucking leaves. If they don’t, the leaves will bruise.

The skill of these women at plucking and holding determines the quality of the tea made. In the factory, you can make good leaf into bad tea BUT you cannot make bad leaf into good tea. If they pick the wrong leaf, or the bruise good leaf, the tea make deteriorates.

Pluckers maintain the table—the flat, level shape of the tea gardens. Bad plucking will break off immature leaves instead of the ready shoots and leave ready shoots past their plucking date. This ruins the shape of the plants, reducing the output of new leaves, and making the plans even more difficult to pluck, compounding the damage with each plucking cycle. Eventually, poorly plucked plants require height reduction pruning, from which they take several years to recover.

Every time you have a great cup of tea, thank the woman who plucked it. She had the biggest role to play in it.


00:07 — Introduction to plucking tea

00:13 — Manju Tanti explains the basics of plucking tea

00:58 — Some interesting facts about plucking

01:48 — The pluckers teach John how to pluck tea

02:40 — John reflects on the plucking experience

03:19 — Conclusion


John: Hi welcome to behind the scenes with Mana Organics. Today I’m going to share with you how we pluck tea on Chota Tingrai Tea Estate.

John: The lady in the purple sari is Manju Tanti. She’s the head plucker who is responsible for this plucking group. She will demonstrate to us how they select leaves that are ready to be plucked.

Manju: (Hindi, translated to subtitles) According to the bush level, we pluck the tea. We don’t put our hands in the pockets. We leave the baby shoots on the bush, and only pluck the leaves that are ready.

John: As you can see, each plucker takes a designated row of tea, and is responsible for it. In a day, there are three shifts of plucking where each plucker picks up to 25 kilograms of tea. Plucking requires a lot of skill and concentration as proper plucking maintains the table, the health, and the shape of the bush. Each bush is picked every seven days. And plucking season lasts from mid-March to mid-December.

John: You’ve probably noticed that all our pluckers are women. This is typical of the Indian tea industry. The Indian tea industry is the largest single employer of women in the world.

John: Now the women are going to try to teach me how to pluck.

John: This one? What about this one. OK? So like right... ah, OK…

John: One more, ah this is Fun! Nin ni ni. Right here, right here. Alright. One, two, ope no! Right there? That good?

John: I did the video very badly. One more for the video.

John: OK. This one good? Right there? Ah! There you go. Two tips and a bud. Right there? OK, OK. Just above this little tip here. One, two… Ah! Perfect. It pops right off. It pops right off.

John: I dunno, it takes… it’s not… you know you have to get a little bit of a finesse. It’s definitely a skill. Um… I mean it would take me years to get that kind of—I don’t think I could ever get that kind of fast. They’re really incredible how fast they are.

John: I really, OK I will just take a quick look at the bag. This is.. so she has only been going for about 10 minutes, and this is what she’s already got. They’re so fast. Thank you.

John: Our pluckers are strong, proud, hard working women, ever striving to achieve the highest quality.

John: Thank you for watching our video! I hope you enjoyed it! Check back soon for more updates from Chota Tingrai Tea estate and Mana Organics.

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