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Published on: Wednesday, November 11, 2015

EVER thought of having your very own home-grown tea? People of yore drink tea as one of the must-have beverages for the day. The Chinese community regard tea as part of important ceremonial drinks; in weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, thanksgiving, to name a few.

Back in the days, Malay families had their meals with sugarless tea as part of the servings – during breakfast, lunch and dinner, said Azizah Itam, 66, from Kampung Kuala Johol, Negri Sembilan.

“I remember in my younger days, I see my mother making tea whenever she prepared meals. But the tea was tasteless (no sugar), so I didn’t like it,” she said. “My parents and older siblings had them. Why they drink sugarless tea, I don’t know, but that’s what I saw as I was growing up.”

She opined that it is good for the younger generation to be curious about how and where tea comes from rather than just expecting to see it in the supermarket.

“It is just like wanting to know where chickens come from, isn’t it. I bet some urban children will say they come from the supermarket, ha-ha!

“Like everything else, tea has its beginnings. I believe that tea had been one of the earliest beverages consumed by people centuries ago,” she said.

She also learned that the royal family of England and the residents regard tea-drinking session as an important event in a day, called “Afternoon Tea”.

“When I was in London many years back, my friend (a Malaysian) who resides in England told me that afternoon tea is a must and a highlight of the day.

But despite the name, they don’t exactly have it in the afternoon, sometimes near dusk. I enjoyed it, though,” Azizah related.

“Today, tea comes in many variesties – Teh Tarik, Teh Halia, Teh Madras, Teh Kahwin, to name a few,” Azizah said, who enjoys her ‘Teh Halia’ after deejaying at RTM.

Martin Kong Abdullah, a tea plantation resort manager said that it is his dream to see the younger generation to learn to appreciate tea more. His team, therefore, came out with strategies to make experiential learning packages in order to create awareness and impart knowledge pertaining to production of tea.

“As we are gearing towards creating a more understanding and well-learned society, we make learning-for-fun kind of packages where we share the details of processing and making tea leaves,” said Martin who is in charge of the 800-acre tea plantation resort in Kg Nalapak, Ranau.

He targeted school children, young adults and those who are keen to learn the process of making of tea. He discovered that most visitors had never seen tea plants before visiting the plantation. Their visit had increased their curiosity to learn more about tea.

According to Martin, the process of making tea leaves is not difficult. However, it needs delicate handling and treatment to ensure quality and hygiene.

“First you need to pluck the top three leaves (young shoots), gather it in a container. Let it wither. Roast it in the oven for just a few minutes. Roll them into small balls using both your palms and you will notice the colour changes from light green to darker tone. Let it ferment.

“Later, separate the leaves and place them on the flat tray, let them dry in a cool place for two to three days. That’s how you get your black tea,” he said.

Martin shared that it is interesting to learn how oolong tea and green tea are made by way of traditional process. “There is some slight difference in processing oolong and green tea. For oolong tea, you need to ‘fry’ the leaves using big wok, stir the leaves but just for a few minutes.

“Whereas for green tea you steam the leaves till it they become tender. Next, roll the leaves (after ‘woking’ or steaming process is done). After rolling is done, let it ferment for a while. Your fresh tea is ready to be served,” said Martin.

He was lucky enough to encounter an English man, Mike Warring, 83, who regularly visits his resort every year in December.

Mike grew up as a child in Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) where his father was an expatriate working for tea plantation. From young he was exposed to tea plantation: from processing to serving it on the dining table.

After a few years, his family went back to the UK and since then Mike had developed a great love and passion for tea and he had worked for several major tea companies at home.

“Mike told me a lot about tea for he knows every fine note about it, from A to Z. I guess from young, he smells tea, eats tea, sleeps tea and bathes tea,” joked Martin.

Martin said that it was Mike who encouraged him to learn more about oolong and green tea-making – not using the commercial way but more on the traditional way.

“That’s how I got the idea of creating learning packages and today, I see many people getting more interested about tea,” he said.

He was proud to be associated with Mike as he regards Mike as a “tea master” for his apt knowledge and passion on the subject.

“Mike taught me the fine art of appreciating and drinking tea in its pure, unadulterated form. For me, tea itself is an art. Drinking tea is an art of life. The process of creating tea leaves is another beautiful art,” he said.

Martin shared the process of preparing tea as follows:- 1. Harvesting – hand pick the top three young shoots, gather them into a container

2. Withering – leave it in room temperature for a few hours (two to three hours)

3. Wok-ing (for Oolong tea) heat the wok and put the withered tea inside wok. Using hands to “stir” the leaves by lifting up and putting down leaves for a few minutes.

4. Steaming (for green tea) – put the tray of withered tea leaves on a steamer until leaves look supple. Then toast (dry) it in the oven.

5. Rolling – roll tea into mini balls, place them into tray and leave it for fermentation process (the longer the leaves are left for fermenting, the stronger the taste is)

With the new technology and tools, food is given new creation with new style, new ways, new look and tea is no exception. Tea has been modified to suit the taste buds of today’s generation.

Tea is also used as part of cooking ingredient. Martin and his staff enjoy exploring food, so more food incorporated with tea were enhanced and given some twists.

“We make tea pancake as dessert, and it is very popular among our visitors. We take the dark green leaves (bigger size) for the juice and mix it into the batter. The colour comes out fantastic.

“However, it cannot be kept too long in the fridge as freshness will not be there anymore. So, each time when tourists ask for tea pancake, we will run to the plantation to pluck the leaves. That what makes our tea pancake fresh and delicious,” he said.

He said apart from dessert, they also served tea herbal chicken soup as one of the signature dishes. Tea enhances the taste of the soup and there is no trace of bitterness at all. Brenda Jane, another enthusiast, was glad that visiting the tea plantation has brought about a good exposure and invaluable experience to her.

“The fun part was having to choose the fresh leaves. But which one? They all look the same to me. Then I was told the top three young shoots – how interesting, indeed.

“We enjoyed exploring it especially the making of green tea. So fresh and with nice fragrance,” said Brenda who was proud and lucky enough to bring home her own handpicked leaves and self-made green tea leaves for her “afternoon tea” at home.

Martin was hopeful that the younger generation will be able to come out with ideas on how to enhance their choice of food and incorporate it with tea. “Perhaps young people out there can create more exciting food using tea. To fire up the imagination, maybe they can come out with dishes such as tea salad, tea sweets, tea cakes, tea rice (why not), anything tea.

“I have not seen such food yet except tea cake, so people out there can challenge themselves for this. Anything is possible,” he said.

As for Tonny Chew, who is attached with a tourism-related company, concurred with Martin. He said as long as trees or plants are grown, it is also saving and protecting the environment since planting more tea trees will create a better and healthier environment in the long run.

“It does not matter what you grow on the soil for as long as it grows, it produces oxygen through the process of photosynthesis, provides green-lung.

“These are good for our environment. We are here to save the world for our next generation,” said Tonny hopefully.

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