Fresh from the Hills
Harvesting Tea in Malaysia
Text and photography by Eric Pasquier
The tea plantations in the Malaysian hills form an undulating sea of dense green shrubs, interrupted only by small splashes of bright colour that weave along the long narrow paths between the bushes: the tea-pickers harvesting the young leaves.
ERIC PASQUIER joins them as they fill the Boh plantation’s baskets in the Cameron Highlands, from where the tea is then exported around the globe.
The most famous tea in Malaysia, that of Boh Plantations, is found right in the heart of the valleys of the Cameron Highlands, in the state of Pahang.
A magnificent place hides behind these summits which have been home to tea plantations since 1885 when the British explorer, William Cameron, discovered the plateau.The Boh estate is one of the most important firms producing tea in the region.
The company was founded in 1929 by John Archibald Russell, the son of a British government official, who saw the potential of tea as an important crop in the then Malaya. He was granted a concession of land in the Cameron Highlands and Boh Gardens was born, the first highland estate in the country.
He quickly realised that the Cameron Highlands were an ideal place to grow tea. At 5,000 metres above sea level, they had perfect climatic conditions, the air was warm during the day and cool at night, the soil was fertile and rains were abundant. As the years went by the company grew bigger and developed a good reputation worldwide and Malaysia is now one of the biggest tea producers in the world.
Today, Boh’s manufacturing plant is ultra-modern, with the application of fertilisers carried out aerially and automated machinery at every stage - gone are the days where pickers had to do everything by hand! Over 6,000 workers pick, sort and box the tea, and experienced pickers can harvest around 200kg of tea leaves a day – enough to make 45kg of manufactured tea. In total Boh harvests around 5.5 million cups of tea per day!
The tea plantations are spread over endless fields which look like a huge green table cloth, cut here and there by little alleys. The rows are accented by the movement of straw hats belonging to the pickers as they harvest the best leaves – it’s a tough job and one which has always been done predominantly by women. From a distance, armed with their hand-held shears and a cut out plastic bucket as they prune the youngest shoots, they create the visual rhythm of the harvest, bending as they walk the alleys. A foreman, who looks like he’s from the last century with his white colonial uniform, watches over them to make sure the work’s done well. When the baskets are full the leaves are emptied into a large cloth, wrapped and taken to the factory where they’re processed and checked for quality at every stage.
The leaves are dried in hot air for 18 hours so they become more breakable and can then be torn into small pieces before they’re put out again on trays and dried at 96ْ C. It’s when the tea is exposed to the air that it takes on its brown colour and when it goes on to a rolling tray, an electrostatic machine removes all the impurities. The finest pieces are then put into tea bags and the bigger leaves are packaged into metal boxes, ready to sell. It’s only then that tea connoisseurs from all over the world can savour Boh’s delicious tea from the rolling plateaus of the Cameron Highlands.
Copyright © Eric Pasquier
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