The Craft of Handpicking

There is a saying in the tea trade:

“You can make good tea with good leaf. You can make bad tea with good leaf, but you will never take bad leaf and make good tea” 

At PMD Tea we only select the best teas from the best estates, so we must have carefully selected leaf. A good leaf consists of the top leaf and a bud from the tea plant. This is where all the nutrients and flavours in tea are found. We reject mature leaf because the flavours of a mature leaf are far weaker and when put through the tea making process produce poorer tea. It is as simple as that; we must have the best.

Ladies Hand Picking Tea in the late 1800's 

Across Sri Lanka, we still do things the old way. Carefully hand-selecting the top leaves and a bud and trimming away any stray branches, whilst leaving smaller buds for the next picking round the following week. Picking by hand allows for the selection of only the best possible raw material, giving the tea maker the best chance to produce amazingly aromatic and flavoursome teas, but it takes time and effort. To pick just 1 kilo of green leaf, a skilled tea picker will hand-pick approximately 2000 individual “two leaves and a bud”. A skilled tea picker will pluck close to 20 kg of green leaf per day come rain or shine.

That’s 40,000 individual “two leaves and a bud” picked by hand by one plucker. You may be wondering why we pick by hand when machines can do most jobs today more efficiently. Whilst tea picking machinery is found in many parts of the world, machines are incapable of selecting only the best top leaves and bud. They indiscriminately trim the tops of the bush including the stalk and other fibrous material that would usually be left on the bush, and this reduces the final quality of the cup. That is why we insist on handpicking.

Ladies like Rani will hand-pick 40,000 individual two leaves and a bud every day 

Having spent two months hand-picking when I first entered the tea trade, I can tell you that it is back-breaking work. I would start early in the morning, and (attempt) to hand-pick as skilfully as the ladies of the picking gang that I was seconded to, as part of my training. 

There are other challenges as well. Tea in Sri Lanka grows on slopes. Keeping your footing and balance as you move steadily through the rows is crucial to picking tea quickly and efficiently. 

Hand-picking two leaves and a bud, thats all you will find in a cup of PMD Tea. 

During the rainy season, gators are an essential piece of clothing, as leeches are present and always looking to latch on. The threat of snakes is ever-present. It is common to hear a shout of “Pambu!” and see a whole picking gang scatter onto the road and wait till the snake (Pambu) moves away. 

So next time you sit down to enjoy a pot of our tea, think of the ladies from the slopes.

 It’s more than just a cup of tea.