On September 23 the owner of the Hotel Ratnagiri graciously took me on a tour of the Okayti Tea Estate. A short 20 minute drive from Mirik over some very narrow, rough roads revealed many acres of a tea estate with its numerous workers spread over several kilometers picking the tea. The tea plants have lovely small blossoms, which we never see in the final product.
The tea estate borders Nepal, separated only by a small stream that people seem to flow back and forth across at will. I didn't see any soldiers or officials. Many Nepalis bring their products across the border via horse or donkey to sell them in India and return the same day.
I've never given tea production much thought. What's to do? You pick it and dry it and put it in a box. Not quite that simple in real life, and certainly the scale of the process makes it anything but simple. The tea is of course picked, and gathered in a drying room where warm air is passed over and under it.
It then goes through several stages of grinding and sifting until different degrees of fineness are segregated by a large shaking machine sorting the tea into plastic buckets, emptied by attentive tea workers. In fact all of the machines are large. This is purportedly the oldest tea making facility in Darjeeling area, and produces its own electricity and hot water for drying the tea.
The strong smell of tea is everywhere and most of the workers wear masks to protect their lungs from the tea dust that covers every surface and is somewhat slippery.