In 2008, Chariteas' owner – Charity Chalmers – took her first tea sourcing trip out of the country. Sometimes – in order to judge the quality of a product before buying it wholesale – one needs to try tea directly from the source. However, her first sourcing trip wasn’t to one of the usual suspects like China, Taiwan or India, but rather Indonesia.
The location for her search? The Dewata Tea Estate. It was one of six estates owned by the Chakra Tea group. The name “Dewata” translated to “home of the gods and goddesses” in the local language.
The tea estate resides in the heart of Gunung Tilu, a protected national forest in West Java, Indonesia. Teas produced there are grown at an elevation of 1,000-1,500 meters above sea level.
Charity arrived in Jakarta a day prior to the estate trip. Dewata was a good six-hour drive from the city – mostly uphill. The next day, she and her group began the trip by car. After three hours, they arrived at the main office at the base of the mountain. She met with the owner, the owner’s family, and a few others for a meeting before heading in another car for the second leg of the journey. Up the mountain.
By late-afternoon, they arrived at the plantation. Lush hills were blanketed with bold green tea plants. The estate also possessed a nature reserve, a tea processing plant, a large tasting room, and a guest cottage. They met the owner’s son and a few of the women workers at the plantation. Soon after, they had their first tasting session. It was a sencha-style green tea with a fresh and delightful profile; a perfect prelude to the traditional Indonesian dinner that followed.
The next morning, they embarked on jam-packed tours and tastings. Their schedule began with a provided breakfast, followed by a tour of the tea garden proper. First, every visitor was required to plant a tree to aid reforestation. Charity thought this was a wonderful thing.
While exploring the garden, the group learned that they only plucked the top two tea leaves and one bud of each shoot. Charity was even allowed to pluck some green leaves herself from the lush, healthy-looking tea plants. All the while, birds chirped from the neighboring nature reserve, like a musical accompaniment to the proceedings.
The next item notched off was the tea processing plant. Spectators were required to don hair nets, hats, white coats and shoe covers before entering. Charity remembers the smell inside the factory. She had difficulty identifying a prominent aroma, but there were fragrant notes of flowers, nuts, herbs and . . . toast. All vying for prominence.
“Like walking into a house, smelling the scent of freshly cooked bread,” she thought to herself.
They watched as green leaves were unloaded, dried, processed, graded and sorted according to quality. The operation was a continuous one – leaves came in and finished tea came out, like clockwork. All of it was quite industrious to behold.
The penultimate leg of the tour was the cupping session.