Malabar Tea-Processing Plant Tour

This is the continuation of my previous post about The Historical Trail Tea Walk at Malabar, Pangalengan.

The distance between Bosscha’s tomb and the tea processing plant is about 10 minutes drive, about 4 kilometers away to my estimate.

It was about eleven o’clock when I arrived at the plant and it looked quiet – probably because it was a Saturday. The management office of the plant is located just outside the plant and you have to go there to get the permission to enter plan’t premises and take the tour. There is no official sign about the requirements for the tour and how much you have to pay for it. But an officer I met at the office told me that the tour cost 15,000 rupiah ($1.1) per person for a group (which I think is quite expensive) or 25,000 rupiah for an individual for a “private” tour.

Entrance to the factory. The tea-processing plant tour begins here.
Entrance to the factory. The tea-processing plant tour begins here.

I agreed to pay the fee and after receiving the receipt for the payment (it’s a receipt not a ticket), I was directed to go inside the fenced premises of the factory and was met by a guide. He’s an employee of the factory.

At the entrance of the building, in what looked like a reception hall, I was shown old photographs of the history of the plantation and the factory on one side of the wall. On the other side were glass windows where you see workers and machinery. My guide told me later in the tour that they were the trasher machines.

The withering process takes place in this area. The freshly-picked leaves are aerated and let to wither for eight to twelve hours.
The withering process takes place in this area. The freshly-picked leaves are aerated and let to wither for eight to twelve hours.

From the reception hall, we climbed onto a deck on the second floor where we could see fresh tea leaves being spread on lines after lines of long platforms. The smell here was strongly ‘fragrant’ – the smell of raw tea leaves. I like the smell, though I must also say that it may not be to your liking. These leaves were being aerated or withered, my guide told me, and it’s the first process after plucking.

After aeration or withering, the leaves will then undergo disruption or maceration process. Maceration is a process whereby tea leaves are intentionally bruised in order to break the leaf celss and for oxidation process to begin. From here, the leaves are transported to another room for oxidation or fermentation. Here and towards the end of the oxidation or fermentation process, these leaves are subjected to warmer air to stop the oxidation. It’s called fixation.

From this machinery, different grades of tea are produced.
From this machinery, different grades of tea are produced.

I was getting more fascinated as we moved from one room and process to the next. Everything was new to me, and being a tea lover, I now learned more why leaves from the same tea shurbs and platations may end up being in different types and qualities of teas.

The tour ended in the quality control room where I met Miss Nurhayati, the tea-tester lady, who happily explained to me the different kinds and qualities of teas that the Malabar tea processing plant produces. She even showed me how she conducted the tests for different brews of teas and let me try them. It wasn’t as easy as I had though when I saw her doing it, of course. After all she’s a pro and a certified tester. She says she’s worked there for 20 years and every year she has to be retested and re-certified.

Different types of teas in their brews in quality the control room.
Different types of teas in their brews in quality the control room.

Miss Nur explained to me that a tea tester uses not only her taste buds but also her delicate and well-trained sense of smell. Having had the chance to taste the varieties of tea she had on her table, I understand better now that not all teas are the same. Some teas are strong in their taste, some are not as strong but more fragrant, and so on and so forth.

Tea tester doing her job at quality control room of Malabar Tea-Processing Plant.
Tea tester doing her job at quality control room of Malabar Tea-Processing Plant.

My guide told me that these varieties go to different markets because each market has its own tea preference. The teas from Malabar Tea Processing Plant are considered to be some of the world’s best and are exported to different parts of the world. Up until 2013, teas from this facility had been exported to 54 different countries and territories, with the main markets being Europe, the United States, Asia, and the Middle East.

The whole private tour lasted for about 45 minutes, partly because I asked a lot of questions.

A final note about the Malabar Tea Processing Plant: This particular plant, I was told, was not the one that Bosscha originally built. It was constructed after the World War Two because the original factory, the Tanara Plant, built in 1905 near the wisma, was destroyed during the war.

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