Munnar became a hot spot for tea cultivation after its inception by the British during the colonial rule. Some of the ancient British tea factories still operate here producing high quality teas for export. Mostly tea is cultivated here on undulating terrains and in some regions it is grown on low lying plains. The tea cultivated from these estates is processed in factories that operate nearby and is being exported all over the world. Currently Munnar houses more than 50 tea estates/gardens and Lockhart Tea Museum and Factory in Munnar is one of the largest producers of Tea.
The Lockhart tea factory is situated 9 Kms away from Munnar town. One can take a rickshaw or taxi from the town to reach the factory. Guided tours can be availed during the factory working hours.
The traditional methods of manufacturing process are being adopted in the factory to produce good quality teas. The management committee takes great effort to maintain and preserve the machines which were installed 150 years back. At the factory sales outlet once can purchase various grades of tea and other plantation products that they wish to take back home.
The age old Lockhart tea factory was established about 160 years back by British East India Company. The factory allows public visits during the regular working hours and one can observe the various stages of tea processing here. The factory houses a museum, a tea sale outlet and tea tasting section.
The factory is owned by Harrison Malayalam Limited and is South India’s largest cultivator of tea. It is estimated that Lockhart tea factory produces about 20 million kilograms of tea every year. The pure high quality tea produced here is being exported to various countries like England, China, etc. The tea cultivated here has been certified to be the best commercial grade tea in the world. The world class products like Tetley tea and PG Tips contain tea that is sourced from Munnar. Organic tea and flavored teas are specialty products of the factory.
The company has given job opportunities for a large group of local residents and has an approximate workforce of 15000 employees. Thus the factory also supports the rural communities by providing facilities like healthcare, food and shelter. Almost half the employees are women who earn the same salary as their male workers. Harrison Malayalam Company also engages in cultivation of other products like banana, cardamom, coffee, pepper, vanilla, cocoa, areca nut, etc.
The usual misconception about tea processing is that each type of tea is derived from different kind of plants. The truth behind tea processing is all varieties of tea are sourced from the same type of leaf or plant. White tea sourced from the youngest bud, top most part of the tea leaf. The portion just below the bud is used for making green tea and the third portion goes for black tea processing. The fourth portion is normally used for making tea dust which is the lowest grade tea. White tea is not very popularly used in India, but is exported to countries like China and England. The taste of tea increases with the age of the plant and height of the region. Thus superior grade teas are sourced from the highest hills of Munnar. Following this principle, tea is being plucked even today from decades old tea plantations in Munnar.
For those who would like to spend more time exploring this charming slice of Munnar, the 150 year-old Lockhart Tea Bungalow built by the British on the slopes of the Chokarmudi hills is an ideal place to stay. Chokarmudi is the third highest peak in South India from where one can get views of Idukki reservoir and a glimpse of the nearest metro city Kochi.