The Indian Heavyweight, Unravelled
Crush, tear, curl (CTC) is a method of processing black tea in which the leaves are passed through a series of cylindrical rollers with hundreds of sharp teeth that crush, tear, and curl the tea into small, hard pellets. This strain of tea employs the use of broken leaves or dust or fanning as opposed to whole leaves and is tolerant, to the extent, being enhanced in taste on addition of external flavouring agents like milk and sugar and spices, if desired. One of the main reasons for the recent popularity and surge in demand and curiosity in the CTC variety of tea globally is owing to the growing presence of the Masala Chai amongst tea lovers as a standalone variant brew. None of the whole leaf teas which are extremely delicate and a seasonal product can be used for making masala chai owing to their disparaging tolerance to external agents of taste, especially milk. While whole leaf teas are best consumed in their naturally extracted brew form, CTC tea leaves find maximum usage in blended teas, flavoured teas and the milk tea variant. Tea bags also use the fannings, broken leaves or dust of CTC tea to create long lasting tea experiences. One of the biggest contributors of CTC tea for the entire nation’s needs come from the tea gardens of Assam followed by the Dooars in West Bengal and some tea gardens in the foothills of the Nillgiri range in the South of India. A railway station at the foothills of the Dooars in Nagrakata is the lone connect between the isolated foothills and the rest of the world. It is from here that the entire CTC produce of Assam & Dooars tea estates is accumulated and sourced for distribution to different parts of the country as well as the world.
Tracing its Origin to its Birthplace
Black Tea is an indigenous produce of Assam tea estates. However the black tea that Assam is renowned for, is usually a produce of the second flush or the second harvesting season, just after the initial brief showers. Moreover as tea is extremely climate sensitive for growth and flourishment, tea estates are generally not situated above 4500 feet altitude above sea level. Hence Darjeeling tea is a brand by itself with its own unique taste and aroma. However the harvest season for Darjeeling is for a very limited period of time. Lets put it this way, the dormant period for the Darjeeling tea estates , from the early onset of winter to the beginning of March is often longer than most of the harvesting seasons be it the first second or third flush. The same goes for Assam tea estates and the Dooars tea estates which are relatively at lower altitudes, located at the foothills in the lap of warmer climates. However the demand and supply for CTC tea is throughout the year and it needs constant sourcing and production to meet these demands. Orthodox tea is generally seasonal and its availability is limited depending upon the time of the year and produce during that harvest. While Darjeeling tea estates undergo a complete shutdown during winter months, Assam and Dooars tea gardens which follow the same harvest format for orthodox tea as Darjeeling, continue the yearlong production and harvest of CTC from February to December when orthodox tea is scant and in dearth. While Orthodox tea essentially involves whole tea leaves and buds, CTC makes use of broken leaves, fannings and dust depending on the packaging and destination purpose of the tea. While tea bags which are extremely popular in the West, as it helps them avoid the mess of the sieved tea leaves that have already been brewed, they don’t find much demand in the Indian sub-continent. Tea Bags are ill-reputed for using low quality tea generally and may also use broken leaves at times, depending on the usage. Tea Bags for premium orthodox tea may contain the dust or fannings, but it will still be expensive. Only Octavius holds the rare distinction of offering whole leaves in their range of exotic orthodox as well as blended tea bags at affordable prices and tailor made requirements.
CTC tea is hardier than its orthodox counterparts in texture and in sustenance, owing to its meticulous process of manufacturing. It is sold loose in most India tea stores as broken leaves or pre-weighed readymade packages. CTC tea is the popular choice in tea shops and domestic households for their preferred style of brew, strong, with a distinct aroma and an eruption of flavours inside the mouth. It is sweetened with milk and sugar and emerges with a strong red coloured brew and is served in disposable earthen glasses traditionally or even teacups, as prevalent nowadays to keep up with the changing times. Infusing spices is also encouraged with the steeping brew which results in the very intriguing original Indian blend of tea, Masala Chai. The spices used range from cardamom, cinnamon, whole cloves, cumin and even ginger and nuts to stir up the most exotic mystic cuppa brew. A sip out of a cup of Masala Chai creates an explosion of different flavours inside the mouth, thoroughly pampering the taste buds and leaving them confused.
Brewing a Cup with CTC Leaves
CTC tea is also different from other orthodox strains of tea in way it is prepared. It is one of the popular varieties of tea finding wide acceptance in domestic and commercial enterprises across the entire Indian landscape. The Western audiences are usually habituated to drink tea in its natural extracted form as a brew. Moreover since orthodox tea employs whole leaves, which are more delicate, they need steeping for a few minutes in order to extract the brew. However owing to the hardiness of CTC tea, its bold robust texture and its tolerance to milk, the process for brewing tea is slightly different. The tea leaves are poured in boiling water and allowed to steep for a long time so that the water can successfully be infused with the characteristic of the tea leaves. The resultant brew after straining used leaves is absolute a dark reddish liquor almost similar in colour to alcoholic liqueur. Taken off the heat once the steeping is over, milk and sugar is now added for taste and kept on low heat in order to facilitate smooth precipitation of the added ingredients to form a uniform brew. This usually lasts only a couple of minutes after which tea is ready for consumption. The resulting brew is usually strong in flavour and a very refreshing beverage.
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