Opinion | CTC’s ‘kadak’ command
In locating a good CTC, you can narrow by plantation or factory, and for a slight premium in price, get an outstanding tea
Do you only drink orthodox tea?" asked a tea friend. My go-to tea is a CTC (crush, tear, curl ). My morning cup is a CTC. When I feel lethargic, I drink a CTC. And I felt it was time to set the record straight about the CTC: that it’s as good as an orthodox, loose leaf teas celebrated for their flavour. There, I have said it.
What makes a good CTC is no different from what makes a good orthodox—the plant, the plucking and the making. The same leaves go into making both CTC and orthodox. CTC costs less because it allows for a high volume of production at a lower cost. This also relegates it to commodity status, a muse only for those who find poetry in the mundane. CTC also suffered in reputation as orthodox ways of tea making emphasized craftsmanship and skill, and no one thought of celebrating the CTC’s engineering innovation.
Developing a taste for orthodox or CTC tea depends a great deal on how each has been marketed. Those who live in and around tea-growing areas are likely to drink orthodox tea from gardens of choice. The rest of us rely on mass marketing and accessibility. In the early to mid-20th century, there was a protracted and persuasive campaign to introduce Indians to tea. It was clearly successful: We went from drinking no tea at all to consuming 70% of our production by the end of the century. We became CTC drinkers because orthodox tea was exported to a market that already had a taste for it.
Bhaskar Hazarika is a CTC tea producer from Assam whose Hookhmol tea is among the most flavoursome I have had. It can be had plain (like an orthodox), with milk, or like a pour-over, Hazarika’s preferred steeping style. “CTC tea is intended to have a strong body," he says. The question he asked himself was: “What if I retain body but add flavour like the orthodox tea?" By plucking leaves with care and reducing the moisture content, he was able to bring the “orthodox touch" to a CTC.
CTC tea has an intense flavour, a robust body, and brews quickly because of the way it’s made. Its other quality is astringency, somewhat controversial in the tea world because there are different types. When made well, a CTC will have a desirable astringency to it.
Most of the CTC we get off the shelves is a blend of a few teas, chosen to produce a consistent taste. In locating a good CTC, you can narrow by garden or factory, and for a slight premium in price, get an outstanding tea. CTC tea promises a comforting cup, better than any other. A bit like that childhood friend who isn’t fussy and can be trusted not to change, no matter how much the world around you is changing.
Ask for tea producers by name: Hookhmol, Halmari, Gatoonga and Mokrung (Assam), Darmona, Homedale and Vigneswara (the Nilgiris).
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.