High up the central plateau, on the eastern outskirts of the town of Curepipe and overtaking the green dales of Midlands, there stands, unsophisticated but neat and efficient, one of the oldest industries of the island: The Corson Tea Factory.
Corson Tea cultivates the Assam Hybrid variety, which originates from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) over 100 years. The flavour, taste and characteristics of tea vary from one region to another according to the richness and composition of the soil, the altitude of the plantations, the climate and temperature. In addition to the manufacturing methods chosen by each producer, it is the soil which determines the character and the strength of a tea. In the fields, for practical reasons in order to facilitate the picking process, the Camellia Sinensis tree is kept at a height of about 1 metre. However, the plant can grow to a height of 10 metres in nature.
The company insists on the traditional picking method of the terminal bud of the tea stem (« two leaves and a bud »). Corson Tea favours the hand-picking of leaves to guarantee the quality of its products. In Mauritius leaves picking takes place year-round, but most of the leaves are gathered during the summer months, from October to March.
As the green leaves arrive at the factory, they are weighed and immediately placed in bags hooked to a chain which goes around the whole factory. They undergo several production steps before they are transformed into this delicious beverage known as black tea, appreciated throughout the day.
In Mauritius where only fermented (black) tea is produced, the following stages take place at the factory:
The leaves are spread on drying tables for 24 hours in ventilated rooms where warm/ambient air is constantly circulated. They lose about one third of their water content and may then be rolled or cut without breaking.
2. Rolling/Cutting (CTC)
This step prepares the leaves for fermentation by releasing the essential oils which will then oxidise. Mauritian black tea is produced according to the Cut, Tear and Curl method, as opposed to traditional black teas.
A delicate stage lasting about 90 minutes transforms green tea into black tea. Fermentation occurs naturally: the leaves, spread thinly on a mat, are ventilated with ambient air saturated with humidity. The art of the tea producer is in knowing when this process should be stopped to release the aromas without changing the taste. It is during this stage that the characteristics of black tea take shape: its briskness, aroma, colour and strength.
Takes place in a very hot oven with forced air. Fermentation is thus stopped and the leaves dried to prevent mould from forming.
First, the fibres from stems and veins are removed with static electricity, as the tea is spread on plastic-coated rolls rubbed with a woollen belt.
The tea is then spread onto sieves of varying sizes in order to obtain several grades of tea according to the state of the leaves: whole, broken or crushed.
For the aromas to develop fully, the tea is stocked for 3 to 4 months in a dry area.
The grades of tea are mixed and flavour is added with great care to compose a tea which blends strength, character and taste.
Loose or in tea bags, the tea is carefully packed using modern techniques which keep it fresh respecting international food standards. The bags are made of a special paper which facilitates water osmosis and the release of aromas. Each is mechanically assembled by microfolds without high temperature glue.
The laboratory is the nerve centre of the enterprise. This is where Corson Tea regularly tests all their products and compose the new flavours which will charm the palate. This room, where tea samples and aromas, from all over the world, are being tested by Amad Soobhany, who has been an employee of Corson Tea ever since 1951. Official tea taster of the company, he was initiated to the art of tea by Marie Jean Raoul Corson, whose talent of taster was recognised by the greatest British tea houses.
Following a very strict protocol of drawing about 2 grammas of tea for exactly 6 minutes using professional equipment, he gauges the level of tannins and inspects the colour. Experience and the quest for perfection guide his verdict.
Like the alchemist, the taster slowly builds the blends which will produce the finest teas. Juggling with flavours, he marries the grades, varieties and aromas to compose teas where a harmonious mix of the four traits will make up the teas’ distinct character: briskness, aroma, colour, strength.