How critical is the plucking process in tea cultivation?
Plucking is one of the first activities in the tea manufacturing process. The type of the pluck determines the quality of the tea to be produced. There are three types of pluck: The Imperial Pluck (P+1) is the pekoe and the leaf immediately below; the Fine Pluck (P+2) is the pekoe with two leaves below and the Medium Pluck (P+3) is the pekoe and three leaves below. Medium pluck is the most common type as it generates more volume and at the same time stimulates the growth of the tea bushes although it produces lower quality of tea. In most cases, especially in hills, teas are plucked manually as it guarantees a finer pluck for higher quality teas. In the hills of Darjeeling, Sikkim and Nilgiris we have observed that most of the plucking jobs are done by women, primarily due to their nimble fingers, while men are mostly employed to maintain the soil and prune the tea bushes. Plucking requires dexterity and a keen eye and it gets even more difficult when you pluck for several hours on extremely treacherous slopes. The typical process for plucking is to hold the young shoot between the index and middle finger and then break it with your thumb. On my trip to Darjeeling last year, I met with Regina in one of the tea estates - she harvested almost 56 kgs of leaves during her shift (50-60kgs is the average pluck on a particular shift), which will eventually generate, after processing, around 10-12 kgs of loose tea.