Havukal Tea Garden, Kotagiri, India

KOTAGIRI, India

Outside Kotagiri in South India’s Nilgiri Mountains, Havukkal tea fields grow around naturally-occurring boulders and are edged with vetiver, a native plant.

“They help prevent soil erosion,“ explains M. Surendra Mohan, Havukal’s manager, “and the factory was built so that the warm winds coming up from the plains would help with the withering process.”thumb_thp_havukal1_panorama_600px

“Tea can be fairly eco-friendly,“ Mohan notes, adding that Havukal uses few chemicals.

“The tea is fertilized purely on a replacement basis.” The garden’s neighbors are government-owned forest and a similarly run sister garden, Warwick Estate. Nevertheless, runoff water, collected in a network of stone drains throughout the garden, is always filtered and monitored for contaminants. Jayaraman Thangavelu, Havukal’s Managing Director, considers this kind of consistency critical.

The Thangavelus bought Havukal Tea Garden in 1957 and have managed the estate ever since. “We know each nook and corner of the garden, down to almost every bush,“ he explains. Thangavelu particularly values his relationship with employees. “It’s easier to work with them, and communication is better,” he says, because workers aren’t afraid to point out problems or suggest innovations.

Though Mohan cites elevation, mild climate, and the mix of clonal and seedling plants as contributors to Havukal teas’ quality, he considers meticulous agricultural and manufacturing practices and regular employee training equally important. Processes are monitored down to the minute.

“Tea that comes in from the fields too slowly is exposed to more heat, which can spoil it,” explains Mohan, pointing out that monitoring ensures both good tea and efficient production. Havukal is by some measures the most productive garden in South India, yielding an average of 4031 kg (1832.27 lbs) finished tea per hectare per year since 2009.

In the factory, every step is computer controlled, says Mohan. He points to misters overhead, saying “They keep the humidity at a constant 78 percent.” He adds, “The computerized system also allows the factory to switch manufacturing techniques whenever necessary.”

Mohan is particularly proud of the factory’s new hot water firing system. “The facility now uses 20 percent less firewood, and the hot water system protects the tea from smoke taint,” he says.

The hills above the factory are bright green with 6017, a clonal that produces Havukal’s top-of-the-line SFTGBOP tea. SFTGBOP leaves tend to be greenish to brown, large, long, and wiry. This tea sells for around INR 1300/kg (about $13.13/lb) and Havukal produces about 3000 kg (6600 lbs) per year. FOP, commonly exported to the U.S., has large, wiry black to brown leaves that produce a yellow to reddish brown tea. Like the rest of Havukkal teas, including OP, GFOP, FP, BOP and BOPF, FOP usually run from INR 110-180/kg ($1.11-1.82/lb), though occasional spikes to INR 200/kg ($2.02/lb) occur. All Havukal teas are orthodox.

Havukal Irrigation SystemExport Details
At 85 percent of production, exports are Havukal’s bread and butter, says Mohan. Orders for GFOP, FOP, BOP-1, and SFTGFOP come mostly from Germany, Switzerland and the U.S.A. BOPF goes to the U.S.A., U.K., Poland, Russia and some Middle Eastern countries. Customers in Poland and Russia buy most of the FP and BOP teas.

2010 Harvest Report
“Havukal concentrates on producing teas with the same color, flavor, and appearance each year,” explains Thangavelu, who expects the upcoming harvest to be much the same as the last, “Consistency is the name of the game.” He adds that new products are not planned, but notes that Havukal takes pride in being able to tweak manufacturing processes to meet exact and changing customer needs. Peak quality season at Havukal starts in January and sometimes lasts until mid-March, the only time Havukal produces its SFTGOP. The second quality season is August through September.