The suburbs of Moscow are birches, fir trees, daisies and flood meadows. All this scenery does not go with tea, but it is here, in the town of Fryazino, that the large Maycomplex tea factory, which produces tea under four brand names – Maysky, Lisma, Richard and Curtis, is located. Up to 28,000 tonnes of tea are produced here every year, which the whole country drinks.
We decided to have a look at tea production and came to the factory in the middle of the working day. The tea here is kept under the strictest hygiene conditions, making it impossible to see the lion’s share of the production process, which is a good thing: this way the producer can guarantee the safety of the product. However, we did talk to the people in charge of tea production and got to the bottom of all the nuances.
The journey of tea from a multi-ton container arriving in Russia by sea to a tea bag weighing 2 grams is short but spectacular. The Maikomplex factory works with tea from 18 countries including Ceylon, India, Kenya, China, Tanzania and many others, processing up to 80 tonnes of raw materials every day. At the warehouse of the factory near Moscow in Fryazino, tea arrives in large, 70-kilogram sacks, after which it is immediately sent for checking against a perfect sample stored in the company’s gold reserve.
Raw materials are checked by titetasters – tasters on whose receptors, sense of smell and visual acuity a great deal depends. Titetasters are people of fine organization, some are born with these organoleptic attitudes, while others master them over time: the factory has its own school where employees are taught to breathe properly when tasting, to properly catch shades of taste and aroma and to notice things that are inaccessible to ordinary people.
Bagging shop manager Valentina Poklonova observes the emergence of tea bags
Before tasting, tea should be carefully inspected, held in the hand, studied for its shine or dullness, and then tasted. For this purpose, it is brewed in special porcelain vessels equipped with funny teeth, which make it easy to detach the already brewed tea from the teaspoons. It’s a product invented in Sri Lanka, which is where the factory orders it from.
The taster pours the brewed tea into a small bowl, from where he uses a spoon to taste the tea with an amusingly deafening splash. The factory staff call this process the nozzle effect testing. It takes this sighing and smacking for the tea to be oxygenated before it reaches the receptors and for its taste to unfold in all its glory, then the titheater can assess all the characteristics of the beverage.
All teas arriving at the factory are compared with an ideal sample kept in a special room
Titters also check the quality of freeze-dried fruit and herbs that are added to some teas. At first glance, this job seems like a lovely, idle pastime: people drink tea from beautiful tea bowls and smell the pieces of fruit. But it is a serious job which doesn’t take away your love of tea. Local tea drinkers confess that they try up to 80 different teas daily and enjoy drinking them at home as well. By the way, the tea which the factory workers drink at work, after keeping it in their mouths for a while, is sent to a special container – a spitoon. Otherwise, the excitement and enthusiasm of the tasters would probably fade from the amount they drink.
If after all the tests it turns out that the tea does not meet the standard, it is sent back. All teas produced in huge quantities at the factory must have a consistent flavour and aroma. And even if a newly arrived bag of raw material is fragrant and beautiful, but has a different aroma and flavour to the given standard, this tea will not be used. The customer should be assured that the tea he bought last spring will turn out to be exactly the same the next time.
The metal container in the bottom left-hand corner of the photo is the spitoon, where the tested tea is sent
The next stage is blending. The approved tea is sent to the blending room, where it is first cleaned of any impurities using magnets and a sieve. It is then blended with either other teas or pieces of freeze-dried fruit or berries, or with herbs or natural flavourings, according to predetermined recipes.
The factory doesn’t use such scales, the photo is a touring prop
Titters sample up to 80 tea samples a day
For example, natural flavourings are added to tea bags, which are made from the finest paper cloth, otherwise pieces of fruit would injure the bag’s cloth, which has to be perfectly flat and smooth according to production requirements. On the other hand, a woven pyramid, where the tea lies much looser, perfectly copes with large fractions, so you can see pieces of zest and fruit through the fabric. The blending room is hidden from view and all processes are fully automated, and rightly so: any interference from the outside can ruin an entire batch.
When tasting, titters are supposed to slurp and muffle to oxygenate the tea so that its flavour unfolds better in the mouth
After blending, just a little bit is left over – a pneumatic system takes the tea to the production lines, and from there to the dispensing machines. Some machines pack the tea into sachets, others into pyramids, and still others into packs. People just watch the process. Rather, it’s a matter of making sure the machines work properly. The rest is done by the machines themselves and they do it very quickly – for example, 100 packets are produced in 13 seconds. Then comes the standard, again automated process for most factories: the sachets and tea bags go into cartons, they are wrapped in film and sent to a warehouse where they are shipped out to all regions of the country.