Tea Manufacture Discussion

Some time ago it was arranged to have comments about Ranga Bedi's statements
on the lack of effort to modernise tea making equipment. Readers were asked to
contribute to the discussion ands so far three have done so

Jimmie Bain. Larry Brown and Venk Shenoi to read their thoughts please click on
name to see their page

January 26 2014

We have now added the words of Harold Mann who was ITA Scientific Officer from
1900 to 1907--many interesting observations to read Click his name on Left

 February 4 2014  
We have now added the Tocklai report which is current and shows who and what  is
currently being worked on Please click Mr Sanyal's on left name to read                        


                                Contract Wheat Harvesters  today in USA

RICE:      Billions of people all over the world depend on Rice

 India could adopt the farming knowledge and technology in use in China and Indonesia
and could produce an additional 100 million tonnes of rice, enough staple food for about
400 million people every year, and US$50 billion in additional annual income to it’s rice
farmers (adjusted to 2010 dollars and global rice prices per tonne).

In addition to the gap in farming system technology and knowledge, many rice grain
producing countries have significant losses post-harvest at the farm and because of poor
roads, inadequate storage technologies, inefficient supply chains and farmer's inability
to bring the produce into retail markets dominated by small shopkeepers. A World Bank
– FAO study claims 8% to 26% of rice is lost in developing nations, on average, every year,
because of post-harvest problems and poor infrastructure. Some sources claim the post-
harvest losses to exceed 40%.,

Not only do these losses reduce food security in the world, the study claims that farmers
in developing countries such as China, India and others lose approximately US$89
billion of income in preventable post-harvest farm losses, poor transport, the lack of
proper storage and retail. One study claims that if these post-harvest grain losses
could be eliminated with better infrastructure and retail network, in India alone enough
food would be saved every year to feed 70 to 100 million people over a year.

(most losses occur because of vermin,secure Silos would negate this. A loss of this
magnitude would not be tolerated by US, Australian and other high end producers.)


                                                 Sacramento Rice Harvester


Coffee and Cocoa raw bean production has seen little or no innovations or improvements
over the past decades. Purchase and refinement is made by the end users in the developed

The plusses for  the production of Wheat, Rice, Tea Coffee and Cocoa and many other
foods in the developing countries are of income,employment, sustenance for the farmers
and their families – and that the Governments of the day do not have to face millions of
people who would otherwise be redundant, hungry and angry, if mechanization on a large
scale was to be introduced!

Another impediment for change is that low labour costs to employers outweighs potential
high capital expenditure.

It’s interesting to note that where developed countries are able to grow crops like Wheat
and Rice that their yields are significantly higher and the mechanization has made rapid
developments to improve efficiency which minimized  labour costs and increased profits.
With high yields and better farming techniques a large surplus after meeting domestic
requirements, is exported by the developed countries,ironically to third world producers.




Harvesting:  It’s doubtful if mechanical harvesting would ever be introduced on a large
scale to India, Sri Lanka or Bangla Desh. Topography of much of the tea areas would
preclude the use of the larger mechanical harvesters this but perhaps the main reason
for non implementation is political.

Tea is mechanically harvested in Australia,Japan,Argentina, Russia, Iran and many
others including parts of Africa.

Mechanical plucking will,in my opinion, never compare with hand plucking.

 With mechanical plucking, if the users are honest and conduct leaf counts, the Coarse
will be about 80% and fine 20% .  Most producers of teas from such leaf sell within their
own borders and have a significant tea waste percentage.  Others can blend a large
amount of imported good quality teas with a small amount of their own produce that
has been winnowed or otherwise cleaned in order to be part of a blend.

I think the exception re fine leaf may be with the harvesting in Japan and altough I have
only seen photos of the harvested leaf, it looks to be of a high standard.
The countries that hand harvest will always make better tea.



                               Tea Harvester – Argentina

 Japanese machines can carry out plucking and pruning operations. It may
noted that a radial shaped tea bush would have more surface area than
a flat
one thus giving more shoots.


           Charleston TE-Wadamalaw Island USA was once owned by
                             Liptons and now by the Bigelow Family.


In Taiwan and parts of mainland China, small family tea blocks of 2 to 5 acres are
hand harvested and only small fine plucking is done by the family members. They
use  the traditional manufacturing methods and the made tea sells at a premium,
is much sought after, and thus provides a comfortable living standard to the family.


                                   Making Tea by hand in a Lushai Village  2010

With the premise that plucking on commecrcial gardens will remain as it is I would
like to take you on a walk  from the earliest days of tea manufacture with Bruce and
Masters of the Assam Company in 1838 and progressively work through the
developments that have taken place to date. I have a lot of old books and records
and I still find it fascinating to look back on the early days when two very important
things mattered-Growing tea profitably- and staying alive!


Withering  and the remaining procedures:         1838 to 2010

Harold Mann was with the Indian Tea Association as Scientific Officer 1900-1907 and
in his book “The Early History of the Tea Industry in NE India” (1917) he writes:

“the withering of the leaf by Bruce’s Chinamen was always done by preference in the
sun when the leaves were taken down and clapped between the hands several times
during the process...”

Bruce’s own account is more detailed and in his paper
“The Method of making Black Tea” (1838)

He writes: ...the method of making black tea from tender shoots that have 4 leaves on,
which are scattered thinly on to a circular basket having a rim of two fingers broad are
then placed in a frame and hoisted so that the sun shines on them and when they have
a slightly wilted appearance they are brought down and allowed to cool for half an hour.
They are then placed in smaller baskets and people are employed to further soften the
leaves still more by gently clapping them between their hands and with the fingers and
thumb extended tossing then up and letting them fall for about 5 to 10 minutes. They are
then put into the frame for half an hour and then brought down and clapped with the
hands as before. This is done 3 successive times until the leaves become to the touch
like soft leather;the beating and putting away said to give the Tea the black colour and
bitter flavour...”

(the full acount of Black Tea Manufacture by Bruce is on the koi-hai site
                                   under “ beginnings”)


                          Withering Racks at Burkhola TE, Cachar, 1870



                                  Leaf Chung House-Koliabur Tea Estate-1920


                       Early Sirocco Drum withering machine

  Withering Houses were often described as 'Chungs'. The enclosed photograph -
which please let me have back - is of an all steel withering house at Panitola just
post-war. People far right give you an idea of size [I fear the photo copy is lost].
When I can I will do a sketch of a withering house / chung with bamboo 'kamis'.
A kami being a long strip of bamboo say 1«" wide by «" think and say 20 feet long.
These were used to make a sort of lattice over which hessian cloth was laid on
which leaf was spread to 'wither'. What a mouthful. !

Trough withering has, I believe, now almost entirely superceded withering in Chung
leafhouses. Maybe you saw trough withering in progress when you visited Tingrai
{I didn't}. Gardens there were some of the first to adopt trough wither using natural
gas to heat / dehydrate the air forced through the leaf by 'forced draft' fans. Much
more compact and more easily controlled than the old way of withering. Mostly
introduced since my time i.e. 20 or more years ago.(Richard Palmer in notes to
Dick Barton)



               Troughs are the most widely used form of withering today.


Rolling Machines of the 1800’s                              


Kinmond’s Centrifugal Rolling Machine.               

Lyles Improved Tea Roller.                                      

Thompson’s Challenge Roller.                                 

Greig’s Link and Lever Roller.                                  

Mr Haworth’s Roller.                                                                                            

Nelson’s Leaf Conditioner.                                      

Mr Gibbon of Cachar-Roller.                                   

Mr McMeekin of Cachar.                                       

S.C.Davidson’s Sirocco Roller.                                 

Jackson’s Roller.


                         Old method of rolling the leaf

 Rolling on coarse mats, placed on the floor, might be

seen also. When I visited the Assam Company's gardens

near Nazerah, in Assam, I saw it done there. It is a great

mistake. The coarse bamboo mat breaks the leaf sadly,

and much of the sap or juice from the leaf, which adds

much to the strength of the Tea, runs through the coarse

mat, and is lost.

One and the principal reason why Indian Tea is stronger

than Chinese is that in India the sap or juice is generally

retained, while in China it is, strange to say, purposely

wasted ! (Edward Money) 

Mr Nelson in Cachar invented a roll conditioner.Leaves were placed in bags and passed
through rollers,not unlike a mangle, that were weighted with stones.


There is, or was (for we do not know whether any are now in use) a Roller introduced

by Mr. Nelson, who was the first to introdnce a Machine for Rolling. Necessarily,

since that time, great improvements have been made. In Nelson's machine,

the Bag was used ; and the same principle has been subsequently adopted, with

many improvements, by Greig ; but to Mr. Nelson belongs the credit of the first

initiation, we believe, of the Bag system, which has now been perfected by Greig,

(Tea Planters Vade Mecum)


Another roller was made by Mr Gibbon in Cachar.

The planters in Cachar however, did not think much of the rolling machines and soon
reverted back to Hand Rolling.

Kinmonds machine, was the best at that time.It consisted of two circular wooden discs
-the upper one moving and the lower is stationary. It was eventually superseded by
Jackson’s Tea Roller that had a few improvements but the supply of this roller was
curtailed for some time pending the outcome of legal matters where it was alleged
by Kinmond that Jackson’s was a copy of his that had only minor alterations.

(J.A.H.Jackson was:-Suptd.,Dikom TE-Jokai Assam Company, Dibrugarh, Assam

I had read somewhere that Kinmond was with the Jorehaut Company when he
invented his tea roller but Andrew Money indicates that he was with the Assam
Compamy (at Nazira?)



The inventor has very wisely made small sizes of this machine, to roll as little

as a maund at a time, and we do not see why he should not make them even smaller,

so as to be worked by hand. This would meet the requirements of very small estates.

The inventor claims that his No. 1 size (the machine we are speaking of (cost

f.o.b. £100), will roll 6 maunds of leaf per hour ; but seeing that 6 fillings and dischargings

have to take place,—there being space for only a little over a maund at a

time—we should be inclined to put the capability down at not more than 5 maunds an

hour. The motive power required to work the machine is a 2-horse power engine, but

of course it would be well to have at least a 3-horse power engine, as there would

doubtless be shifters, &c., to drive, from the shafting. The principle of the machine

is centrifugal force, the leaf being thrown and re-thrown perpetually from the centre   
      by the effect of carefully-regulated set wooden flanges on the two opposite discs.

The discs revolve in the same direction, but apparently at different rates of speed,

and the pressure is regulated by a delicately-threaded screw, working against a spiral

spring, under the most perfect control, the action of which, in separating or drawing

the discs together, can be regulated by a boy. It is as well to have two sets of

springs of different strength, as although the springs are guaranteed not to break,

they may compress hard up before the full pressure is exerted on the leaf being rolled ;

and the springs should never be hard up, although they may be »«ry near. Every

part of the machine is simple, and extra strong. It is easily erected, and has a neat,

compact Machine-like look about it.

The driving-pulley on the Rolling-machine is 20 inches in diameter, and should

be driven at a speed of 150 revolutions per minute. This causes the plates of the rolling

machine to have a speed of 60 revolutions per minute, which is attained with a

minimum of noise (no small advantage).

Owing to the short time in which the rolling process is completed, the leaf comes

out specially green and fresh, while from its being so thoroughly shaken up and turned

over and over in the process of rolling, the leaf is softened, and prevented trom being

bruised or broken.

The machine is fed from above,,and the inside of the discs in contact with the tea

is entirely of wood. (Tea Planters Vade Mecum 1885)



This machine will be well recollected as being the cause of a heavy law-suit, in

which Mr. Kinmond sought, and successfully, to prove that the machine was an
on his Patent. In the result, parties using Jackson's Machine had
to pay
a royalty, we believe, to Mr. Kinmond. Subsequently an arrangement was
come to
between Jackson and Kinmond. The object of the Invention was to imitate
as nearly
as possible the motion of hand-rolling, and it proved very successful,
the peculiar
motion given to the ball of leaf rendering it very effective for hard leaf.
It is not necessary to enter into any detailed description of Jackson's machine,
as a reference to that of Kinmond will almost suffice. Some planters, however, still

prefer Jackson's Roller to Kinmond's, as they say it is more simple. There will always

be differences of opinion on such matters, but there is no doubt that the simpler

the construction of a machine, the less liable it is to get out of order. Price has

necessarily, also, much to do with the selection of any machine—especially for small

factories. In this respect Greig's Roller carries off the palm. In selecting a machine,

regard should, of course, be had to the extent of work it is required to perform, for it is

not every Estate that can afford or requires the large and expensive machines of Jackson

and Kinmond,(Tea Planters Vade Mecum)

(Jackson also made a ‘Dreadnought’ roller that came later)

 Below: an early Sirocco Roller.





                       This little machine was made by Wilson & Sons of Colombo

                       and found it’s way to Munnar.There is a pinion at the bottom

                        of the crank so it may have been looked at to see the possibility

                         of a pinion drive.The table may have been wood or stone and

                          the two pillars at the container sides may have been used

                          to oscillate the table.

                                     Sirocco 36" Double acting Tea Roller circa 1920                              


                                 1910 and still going strong on a Duncan's garden !!                            



                The Rotorvane.


The Rotorvane was developed at Tocklai at their Engineering Dept., headed at that time by Ian McTear. The suggestion for such a machine may have been mooted by William Tull, a highly qualified Engineer who had been engaged by the Indian Tea Association to  carry out a study of the Tea Industry and to subsequently make recommendations on how improvements could be made. The result of this study,his findings and recommendations were contained in the publication of “Tea Looks Forward”

Ian McTear was an experienced Tea Engineer who joined Tocklai from the Kanan Devan Hills Produce Company and he developed the Rotorvane and it was embraced by the Industry as it was a big step towards automation of manufacture and very soon the Rotorvane was coupled with CTC lines.

Tocklai experimented with the Rotorvane discharge and the Iris plate was adopted over the cone arrangement. Alterations to the feed worm were made and pitch changes made to the Rotor blades where some had a reverse pitch to increase the severity of leaf rupture.

Tweaks were made by users who found that the stators nearest the feed worm would come adrift, with disastrous results as the dislodged stator would snap the rotor blades. Easily fixed-the ½” whit holding set screw was replaced by a 5/8” one –and a lock washer added!

Many factories tossed out their tea rollers and then some years later re-installed them as a hedge against market conditions which sometimes favoured Orthodox teas-to meet this the factories adopted what was to become known as “Dual Manufacture”


The Rotorvane has not been superseded and has now been in use for 0ver 50 years without a successor but  it would have a partnership with a machine that had been around since 1931-William McKercher’s Crush, Tear,Curl machine!

Early 48” CTC machines – drives are a combination of DC mototors

   and lineshaft. It had brass trays that were cleaned every day with

   ‘Saf Karo’!(photo from Richard Palmer Collection -SE Asia Archives- Cambridge )


(from Richard Palmer’s notes to Gyles(Dick)Barton.)

C.T.C Machine: Will do a sketch later on. C.T.C stands for Cut, Tear & Curl. Invented by a man named McKercher and the prototype came into operation in 1931 in the Amgoorie Co's factory. McKercher was the Superintendent of the Amgoorie Co - later knighted for services to the Tea Industry. My old boss, C.A. Rainey (60 years in Tea) and must have been a contemporary of A.N.B. in Jokai, maintained that the C.T.C. was responsible for revolutionising the tea drinking habits of the Western World. It produces the small leaf required for 'quick brew' and Tea Bags.

P.S. McKercher was an apprentice at Marshalls, Gainsborough, makers of Tea machinery thus accounting for him eventually 'going to Tea'

To go in with this, I'll try to do a sketch of the essential bits of a C.T.C. machine. A note by the Manager of Amgoorie where the first - should I say prototype - saw life is enclosed. A point Johnson does not make is the finding that sharp rollers were an absolute essential. A man not in the Amgoorie Co was the first to appreciate this and installed the necessary machine tools.

The Palmer referred to by Johnson is my brother, Sammy, who sadly died soon after retirement over 25 years ago. He told me, and he was not prone to sleepwalking, that when work on the prototype was at its height, he came to one night under his bed trying to screw bits of the machine into the spring mattress.

McKercher, inventor of the C.T.C. machine was the son of a Lincolnshire farm worker, apprenticed to Marshall of Gainsborough, makers of Tea machinery which resulted in him going to Tea in Assam. A man of imposing appearance who hobnobbed with Governors and was a member of the Assam Legislative Assembly.


(it may be of interest to know some background to the first CTC. Although  invented in 1931 (nearly 30 years ahead of it’s time) it had a bit of a rocky start. When McKercher tried to get the first one made, he approached Marshalls of Gainsborough, one of the only two major tea machinery manufacturers in the world at that time-the other being Davidsons, in Belfast. Marshalls told him that they could be interested in making two units but making one would not be economical. McKercher approached his Principals, Amgoorie Tea Company but they said they could only afford one. McKercher’s fellow polo player and good friend was a gentleman called John Maurice Kilburn, who was a senior manager shareholder with the Makum(Assam)Namdang Tea Company, in Margherita. McKercher approached him with the request to see if the Makum Company could provide the money for a second machine-the Company said times were lean etc and they couldn’t afford it, whereupon Kilburn told them he, as an individual, would find the necessary money, although it would be difficult. When faced with this, the Makum Company relented and funded the second machine. On completion, one machine went to Amgoorie and the other to Dehing Tea Estate, near Margherita. - The writer worked for the Makum sister Company, Namdang  and has kept in touch with many of his old colleagues, and while at a party in Calcutta, raised the question of old records and documents with a colleague who had retired as Superintendent with the Makum Company. He had been reluctant to burn all the old papers, as instructed, when the Company was taken over in the 70’s and by chance he retained the original correspondence between McKercher and Kilburn-a valuable piece of history if I can get it!


The CTC Machine: 8” dia’x 2” wide stainless steel are heat shrunk on to mandrels (MS barrels) Chasing is then carried out with an 8TPI chaser. Helical grooves are then milled and this results in multiple sharp tooth profiles. The original CTC rollers were 48” long but people have experimented with 24”. 30” and 36” and tried different tooth profiles and spacings. I believe that 36” is the preferred width nowadays.


The Lawrie Tea Processor is worth a mention. It did away with the Rotorvane CTC part of manufacture. It was essentially a large hammer mill with a stainless steel casing. The hammer’s cutting edge wore away fairly quickly and became rounded. It didn’t take long for this problem to be fixed. It was a simple matter to grind a stepped recess and with ‘space age glue’ affix tungsten carbide inserts that kept their age for a very long time.

Manufacturers make machines-planters make them work!!

A tea processing Factory with CTC with CTC machines




I was listening to a conversation on tea matters between three worthies. One

was a man who had had 7 years' experience, and was assistant on a Garden ; the next,

a man of 8 years' experience, and was manager ; the third was never either manager

or assistant, but had been inspecting Tea-Gardens for a number of years, and was a tea

proprietor to a large extent. Tasting-cups were brought, the tea infused, which was

" bulk," and when five minutes had expired, up goes C, (we will call them in order

A., B., and C, viz., A. the Assistant, B. the Manager, and C. the Proprietor,) pours

out the liquor, turns up the out-turn, shakes his head, and remarks, " What

do you think of this B. ?" B. takes the out-turn to the light, smells it, turns it over,

and remarks—" Too green : more fermentation wanted." A , who had had two years'

experience as solely tea-house assistant, and five years of both tea-house and out-door

work combined, had made the tea. He winked at me, and then said, " With many

bhanjee leaves amongst your leaf it is better to fire off rather green ; now, you see, one half or nearly so, of this leaf is bhanjee, and many of these bhanjee leaves are hard."

B , who had general experience, but never was a tea-house assistant, asked the reason

why it was better to fire off green, and C. could not see why more fermentation was not

given. A. winked again at me, and said. " I'll do as you desire, but my experience

goes to prove that bhanjee leaves take longer to ferment than Pekoe leaf, and when

your bhanjee leaves are green, your Pekoe should be fired." C. remarks, " Well B.,

what do you say ?"

B.—" I do not agree entirely with A. My plan of manufacture is different from

his : I therefore trust he will adopt my plan, and give the proper fermentation. His

tea no doubt tastes pungent, with fair flavour.

C. (interrupting)—" I think so too, but as there should be more fermentation, A.

must change his system." A had risen, and he and I went into the Bungalow to have a

peg. " Well," said A., "and have I spent my time for nothing, trying various ways of

manufacture to produce the best profit for the garden ? I have under-fermented and I

have over-fermented; I have sifted the roll, I have fired it without sifting; I have rolled

the leaf right off, and I have rolled it 2, 3, and 4 times, and I know what qualities a

good tea requires by taste, appearance, colour of out turn and liquor, etc. ; and I

know how, in manufacture, these qualities are all produced—in fact I would be a fool

if I did not, after such experience; and I am not consulted how tea shonld be made,

but told to change my system by fermenting more. Now my tea will be reduced in

price all round, but later on I could with advantage ferment more."

{Enter B and C )—C. speaking to A. says, " You will have to get more of a salmon-

colour in your out-turn ; this is done by carefully watching the roll while under

fermentation, and firing it off at the proper time : when once you see how long it takes

to ferment, there will be no further bother."

A. is grieved to see that C. thinks him such a novice, and begins to say, "Yes,

but"—when C. interrupts him, and says ; "You just do as B. desires, and you won't

be far wrong.


A. (turning to B.) says: "Well, what way shall I make your tea? "

B. explains, and lays down the system, viz , how many hours' fermentation he

thought quite enough ; how many men to roll, and how many to fire off ; how many to

wither leaf, &c., &c., ; and he hoped his system would be carried out.

  1. replies, " Your system is a good one, I have no doubt ; but fermentation...

C. (interrupting A.)—" On what do you chiefly depend for making good teas ?


A.—" On proper fermentation being given."

C —"And still you do not give it ; why ?"

A.—" Because there are exceptions to the rule, which makes it better sometimes

to sacrifice our colour for our liquor, but rarely vice versa.

B.—" I always give 2 hours to ferment my roll, and I find it answers very well.

I'd advise you, A., to do the same."

" All right," says A., for A. was fully well aware that people who hold a high

position get to think that they must know more than those below them,—though,

really, those below them may be more experienced than themselves ; but high position

makes people forget all this, and it is only natural, (so thought A ) ; and as his opinion

was not asked for, (it being no doubt thought worthless, he being an assistant),

he thought it best not to dispute the matter, and so avoid his Manager's displeasure

for shewing up his ignorance. (Exit B. and C.) So said A. to me after B. and C.

had departed.

After some conversation I remarked to A. that he did not seem to agree quite

with B. and C.'s mode of manufacture.

A.—" Well, I was about to explain my ideas on fermentation, when I was interrupted

by C."

(After asking for his ideas, he said) " that no stated time could be given for

fermentation, as far as his experience went." He said (and truly) " that some days

are hotter than others ; that morning and evening was cooler than 12 at noon ; that

some tea-houses were hotter than others ; that some were drafty and cold ; also that

March was cooler than May or June ; that April was generally subject to great varieties

of temperature through the day ; that June, July, and August, were damp, &c. &c. ;

and he found that it was very rarely the same length of time for fermentation could be

given day after day to produce the best tea. His experience also went to show him

that it did not pay a Garden to leave bhanjee leaves on the bushes, and that the

length of time for fermentation greatly depended on the (description of leaf (coarse or

fine) plucked ; ''but," said he, "what is the use of all this experience? and it

grieves me that I should simply be made a tool or a machine of, instead of being able

to apply my knowledge to the Company's and my own welfare."

I did not venture to offer an opinion on the subject, as I was not well up in

these matters. At the same time I thought there was something in what A. said.

(footnote BY THE EDITOR.—A's Statements are correct.] (tea planters Vade Mecum)


(I like the part where A and his guest went off to the bungalow to have a chota peg!!)


 ‘Gumla’ fermentation was developed by W.M’s and I always remember the method  Of determining the correct airflow was by using a clear plastic cylinder with a ‘ping-pong’   Ball inside!


  Fermenting machines: many thought that the fermenting machines came on the scene so that   automation could be extended  after the Rotorvane/CTC line. There were many manufacturers who made machines similar to the one above as well as units that had tiered slow moving food grade belt conveyors.



In the early days the planters were reluctant to change from charcoal and coke as many of them thought that the fumes produced were beneficial to the tea taste. By trial and error it soon dispelled this thinking and hot air was the next forward move. Huge lumps of cast iron called ‘heaters’ manufactured by Marshall’s and Davidson’s soon appeared and these were fuelled by wood,coke,coal,and then an oil burner was added!

Tea Drier Oil is thick and Sulphurous-in the Cold Weather it can be shovelled!

All of the fuels were practically on the doorstep of the Assam gardens and were in plentiful supply and cheap so there was no urgency for change although some did look at efficiencies and with suitable preheating of the TD oil and/or using light diesel, they were able to ‘direct fire’ the tea. The heaters were just a simple mild steel cylinder lined with firebricks. The made tea drying costs dropped dramatically. The oilfields adjacent to many gardens in Assam soon had mega quantities on natural gas and those who could soon hooked up to the gas supply thus giving further savings and eliminating th chance of contamination which on some occasions did occur in direct firing with TD oil.

Assam is rich in Coal, oil and gas so it is doubtful if any change will happen to the tea drying operation.

Solar panels to supply lighting to the labour lines, bungalows, security lighting could  be considered. Although small it is nevertheless a forward step.


The first point in considering this invention is

the question whether the fumes of charcoal, as some assert,

are necessary to make good Tea. If they are not necessary

(that is, if they produce no chemical effect on the Tea, and

therefore heat from wood devoid of smoke would do as well)

there can be no doubt such heat would be cheaper, and

more under command, by this or some other plan. Are

then the fumes of charcoal necessary ?

I do not know that anyone can answer the query. I

certainly cannot, for I have never made Tea with any other

agent than charcoal, and I have never met with more than

one planter who had. He said the Tea was not good. Still

it would, I think, require very careful and prolonged experiments

to establish the fact either way. Speaking theoretically,

as it appears, the only effect of charcoal is to drive all

the moisture out of the roll and thus make it Tea, I cannot

but believe other heat would do as well. It is, however, a

question that only experience can solve.* (Lt Col Andrew Money 1883)


                  Old method of drying the leaf

                                     Driers of the 1800’s

.                                                 McMeekin’s chest of drawers Drier

                                      Greig’s XL – All drying and Withering m/c

                                      Greig’s Patent Globular Pipes Heater.

                                      Allen’s Patent Drying machine 1md/hr

                                      Jackson’s New Compound Dryer.                                           

                                      Mr Robertson’s ‘Typhoon’ dryer.

                                      Shand’s New Tea Dryer.

                                      Bicknell’s self-acting Tea Dryer for

                                      small gardens.R’s75 output 20 lbs/hr.

                                      S.C.Davidson’s Drier.

All these driers had a fixed tray or trays-they were eventually superseded by the “Venetian” type Machines(the narrow perforated trays there could be tilted by pulling a handle so that the tea fell on to a lower run.)- then along came the “Empire” drier from Marshalls and the ECP from Sirocco-and finally the “Fluid Bed Dryer”


                  Interior  of early drying room in Cachar – by charcoal fires


                                       Davidson’s driers at Burkhola mid 1800’s-it looks like a fixed

                          tray drier that had a number of trays that were hand loaded

                               and discharged after being dried by fan blown hot air.


                                              BARRY'S NEW DRYING MACHINE.

         We paid a visit to Chowkidingi, the head-quarters of the Debroo Combination

         Company's estate, on purpose to see Barry's new Drying Machine, lately erected

         here, at work. We think it a great success, and capable of great things in the way

of Tea-drying. A huge cylinder, in which are innumerable cells, is made to revolve

slowly round a tube containing hot air, forced thereinto by means of a fan erected over

a furnace. This fan is driven by the same engine that drives the Drying and Rolling

Machines at work in the Factory, and revolves with great rapidity. The cylinder is

slightly elevated, and the withered leaf is put in at the higher end, which falls, as the

machine revolves, from one cell into another until it reaches the lower portion, from

whence it drops into trays placed ready for its reception. The tea is then placed for

a short time on an ordinary chula, to finish it off. The consumption of fuel is very

email, two or three mauuds of coke being sufficient for about twenty maunds of leaf

(tea planters vade mecum)


 A number of driers in Indonesia and China even today use a similar type of arrangement when    making Green tea with the “hot panning” process. A heavy Cast Iron Drum is heated by external burners and the green leaf is tumbled through the drier where the heat suppresses the Polyoxidase Enzyme thus arresting ‘Fermentation’  With very little in the way of temperature control, the  Leaves are often charred and burnt. When this happens, the end product is euphemistically called ‘Toasted’ instead of ‘Burnt’!!


                                                      Fluid Bed Drier produced by Bedi & Bedi





1800’s     Griegs Sifting Machine

                Ansell’s patent Tea Sorting and Winnowing machine

                Delgarno’s sieving machine

                Jacksons sifting machine


Mr. Ansel], of Kurseong, has invented a very good Breaker, simple, and easy

to work; and another Tea Breaker is that of Mr. Geo, Reid's invention. The principal

is that of cutting the leaf between toothed rollers. It is k, well of by planters

in Assam, and the price is moderate. (Vade mecum)


           Cachar- early 1900’s




Clarks Cutter, Andrews Breaker, the Miracle Mill

Winnowers, Java Tunnels, Waterfalls, Bentons, Hath Chalni, McIntosh, Trinick,Chalmers,Chota Moore,Myddleton,Afco, Shizuoka, Kason- I’ve forgotten many names but I’m sure there are at least dozen more pieces of equipment that have been used in Sorting Rooms.


Packing of tea in foil lined paper sacks has been definite progress.




When working through the night in the Namdang Factory, I often sat on an upturned tea chest in the Firing or Sorting rooms and thought of what could be done, if anything,to improve the performance of the machines. If I did get an idea I’d go off to the office and write it down-while having a drag on one or more of the “Simla” cigarettes still burning in the ashtray. I sometimes came up with little improvements, like using loops of piano wire mounted on a wooden batten and lightly scraping the top drier tray run just before the first tip. This loosened the tea when only a light wither was obtained,and therefore stopped ‘Blanketing’ which could halve output.. Another was a simple curved baffle on the High and low speed CTC rollers, the 1/4 “ clearance made the CTC self cleaning. An attempt at a continuous withering machine was a disaster as the wire ropes kept stretching! However, I did get a self loading trough(plastic mesh carried by chains with distance stiffener bars and zero/max gearbox drive)to give an infinitely controllable discharge to the Rotorvane by using rotating,staggered brush segments stretching over the trough width. The Rotorvane worm never jammed and maximum output was had. I experimented with powdering tea waste with the aim of producing instant tea. I have converted old Empire driers into 2 stage and doubled the output.

But the best one I ever had has been commented on by Jimmie (Bain) as progress.

One evening (or was it early morning) I sat and watched the AFCO. This was a fairly cumbersome machine that had a series of red plastic rollers and static was generated by a spiral of felt that rubbed along the back of the roller.The problem was that these felt rollers would become impregnated with tea and it ended up like sandpaper! This tended to cut furrows in the plastic covering and caused near melting conditions to the plastic covering. I thought that there must be a better way,why not use terylene or nylon fabric?, could a roller be mounted on a conveyor? or a Myddleton?.....and I went the office and put my ideas on paper.

The wee machine worked like a charm and after sharing the idea with all my friends (wrong move) someone suggested that I might make some money from it so I tried to get a patent.

I approached Remfry and Sons,Patent Attorneys, Calcutta and all shapes sizes,speeds,diameters, materials,applications on conveyors and shuffle sorting machines like the Myddleton etc were drafted up by them but some R’s4000 later I ran out of money-an assistant’s pay of R’s625 a month could not keep up!

My little fibre extractor was so simple that it was copied by everyone and is now used in every tea growing country in the world!





I’ve kept these little bits of paper,that are frayed and turning sepia, for  over 50 years!!!!


































  Some people will drink anything!  Rooibos is not even tea and is made from Aspalathus linearis a South African plant.


In conclusion to notes about the progress or lack of I would like to draw attention to a certain proprietor, a Mr Jonperris, of Twitta Tea Estate here on the Sunshine Coast in Australia who shuns progress and says he wants to get back to the manufacturing methods used by Bruce in 1838. I believe that Bruce is a distant relative of Jonperris and that may have influenced his views. His labour force has baulked at the idea of using their feet to roll the withered leaf so he had to reluctantly to purchase a hand powered machine to do the rolling.







  Derek has tumbed his nose ar all the advances that

Tea Machinery

has seen and says he wants to get back to basics!


He did, however, make some concession to tea dryng in fact he has two tea driers; one an upright model that is fan forced and adjustable temperature control. His workers can set a timer and a little bell rings to let them know it is time to inspect the tea.

This drying unit is fairly versatile and when not drying tea the workers are allowed to do other operations like roasting meats etc.,

The other drying model is manual but has temperature and fan speed settings and is used when the harvest is small.




                                                               The Tea Drier at Twitta Tea Estate







        The workers look surprised as Derek has sounded the “hooter” early. Normally he keeps them out until dark.




Doreen, the senior garden worker, showing newly picked leaves

to Derek and asking if any ‘one and a bud’ are required. Derek can

be a hard taskmaster at times and he insists on fine plucking.

Doreen had retired some years back but Derek insisted that she

return to the labour force as he could not find any local labour who

would work without wages.







 Progress in manufacturing is a long way from one’s thinking when visiting Tara TE -a garden planted by Bob Jones on a beautiful setting on the slopes of Umiam Lake in Meghalaya.

                                       John Nuttall – Larry Brown-Bob Jones


A wise man once defined Progress as spending millions of dollars trying to get things back the way they used to be!