I love telling people that most tea bags are literally made from dust. People think I’m using the word to indicate the incredibly low quality (which is correct), but dust is actually an official term in the tea lexicon. 

Here’s a bag of Tea Silver Cloud “CTC Dust” grade tea. I found this when I was in Coonoor in Southern India in May 2013.

Highfield Tea Estate (top right) and many other estates in Southern India and elsewhere in the world, produce several grades of CTC (crush, tear, curl) tea. It ranges from coarse to very fine. CTC is a method of manufacture where tea leaves are torn up several times through a series of machines. This tea is then left to oxidize (turn color from green to black) and then fired (baked). 

The James Norwood Pratt Tea Dictionary has an entry for dust too.

This comparison shows the difference in how tea bushes are grown and plucked depending on desired end product.

Left: “two leaves and a bud” make up the majority of good quality loose leaf teas from all origins. The bud and leaves are of similar size. Younger, smaller leaves will keep a greater range of flavor and aroma when processed.

Right: Leaves below the bud are allowed to grow larger so as to yield a larger quantity for CTC (crush, tear, curl) and “dust” grades of tea for teabags. Larger, older leaves, loose the fine flavors and aromas yet provide that deep, dark, black of black tea that is so often desired.

Images from my visit to Highfield Tea Estate, in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, India. May 2013.

Highfield Tea Estate, Coonoor, Nilgiri, India

I had an excellent time visiting the Highfield Tea Estate. Several factors are different when compared to estates in Darjeeling: climate, soil, variety of plant, production process, and economic factors to name a few.

Highfield’s primary product is CTC (crush, tear, curl) which is a manufacturing process designed to output maximum quantity and standard black tea taste. CTC is the tea used in chai.

The goal of the Makaibari project is to transition the Highfield estate to organic and biodynamic practices.

While there I got to learn about the factors that will change with this conversion process. There is great enthusiasm for this transition as it opens Highfield up to new markets and raises the standard for tea produced in Nilgiri.

More to come on the people involved, how CTC is made, and the first batch of organic green tea being produced at Highfield.