The favorable climate in south India makes it a massive producer of many spices, as well as world-class tea leaves and coffee beans. While in Periyar, we took a spice and tea plantation tour to learn more about the things we eat and how they grow. The four-hour tour took us to an organic, eco-friendly spice plantation, a tea factory and a tea and peppercorn field where we could watch pickers in action.
Bay leaves come from Cinnamomum tamala, the same tree that gives you cinnamon (from its bark).
If you cut off the bark of the Cinnamomum tamala, it won’t kill the tree. Instead, the bark will grow back, but the tree must be at least 6 or 7 years old before this can happen. The tree processes water through its roots and trunk, and not its leaves and bark.
Cardamom is not harvested from the leaves, stems or main stalk. The pods grow on roots that grow above ground! There are both green and black cardamoms pods.
Amomum, the black variety, is grown in north India, and Elettaria, the green kind, in the south. Eighty percent of the green cardamom pod is water.
Most cloves, Syzygium aromaticum, are dried and the oil is removed and sold separately. The oil is a natural analgesic and antiseptic used mainly for toothaches.
The higher the elevation that coffee grows, the better the flavor. Beans grown at high altitudes mature slower, increasing the flavor.
Coffea arabica has a bigger seed and small leaf. Coffea canephora, also known as coffea robusta, has bigger leaves and smaller seeds.
Gossypium, the cotton plant, can grow from a bush into a tree.
Peppercorns grow as a vine 18-24 feet up trees.
Green, black, red and white peppercorns all come from the same plant, the Piper nigrum. Green peppercorns are ready to pick at three months. When they dry, you get black peppercorns. Red peppercorns can be harvested after nine months, at their peak ripeness. If you take a fresh red peppercorn and rub it between your hands, the red outer layer easily peels off and reveals a white peppercorn inside.
The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, can grow to be a tall tree. The plants are kept short (a meter or so high) to aid in harvesting.
The leaves that are picked are the light-colored green ones in the top center of a stalk. They are rich in polyphenols and antioxidants and can be picked every 10 days.
How to properly steep black tea powder:
Place a teaspoon of black tea powder in a pitcher and add boiled water. Let it steep for 3 minutes, then strain and serve.
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