In the hills of South India just outside Coonoor, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway train makes four stops a day in the Glendale Tea Estate, just as it has for the last century. The estate’s main factory building dates back to 1900. But time has not stood still for Glendale. Though the factory building is carefully preserved, multiple additions accommodate new machinery and increased production at this ISO certified facility.
K. Gopal Krishnan, director of Glenworth Estate Limited, considers modern methods critical to quality. Glendale Tea Estate uses cold air for withering. “Hot air spoils the flavor,” asserts Gopal Krishnan, explaining that the slower drying process better preserves tea’s volatile oils and aroma. Glendale tea is machine rolled on tables made of purpose-imported Sri Lankan wood. Hot water, not flame, heats the air in the firing room, producing a consistent temperature and leaving the tea’s flavor untainted by smoke, according to Gopal Krishnan. “A lot of gardens in the area are just starting to think about this technology,” he adds. “We’re been using it for the last five years.”
The estate is part of the Ethical Tea Partnership as well as the Sustainable Agriculture Network. Glendale has been Rainforest Alliance certified for four years, and a new certification audit is under way. The garden is not organic, but chemical usage is restricted. No 2,4-D formulations are allowed and, says Krishnan, “Pesticide and acaricide use is minimal. Actually, we hardly use any chemicals.”
The Glendale Tea Estate’s tea plants are roughly half Assam hybrid from the garden’s initial planting and half an assortment of clonal teas, each selected for a particular quality. Glendale tea grows at elevations of 4,000-6,000 ft.
“We’re specialty tea pioneers in the Nilgiri area,” Krishnan says. The company’s silver tips white tea, for example, made only from buds, is valued at about $100/kg ($45.45/lb). SFTGOP, wiry-looking when dried with visible silver tips, goes for about $15/kg ($6.82/lb). Glendale’s hand-rolled tea runs about $40/kg (18.18/lb). Though technically a black tea, Handmade is still greenish when dried and the infusion has a green cast. Glendale currently has no true green tea, but Krishnan plans to bring one to market soon “We’ve just had the machinery installed,” he explains. A new factory is planned for 2013 so Glendale can further expand its specialty offerings.
About 70 percent of the company’s non-specialty teas, BOPF in particular, are exports, usually to the U.S., Russia, and Germany. “Most of our American customers do their own blending,” according to Krishnan.
2010 Harvest Report
Coonoor only gets about 1500 mm (59 in) rain per year, concentrated in October and November. Glendale’s highest quality teas usually grow just after that, during Coonoor’s winter months. “That’s when the high grown flavor is at its best,“ says Krishnan. These teas appear January through March, and are usually available until April. “This year we’re having a late quality season because we had rains up until December,” says Krishnan. “The initial crop was low, though it’s now going higher.“ He adds, “We’re expecting prices to go high this year because there’s a shortage of production in Kenya, and there are also problems in Darjeeling.”