When the British first began to mine tea in 1646 it became the most coveted commodity until the introduction of gold in the late 19th Century. The British made tea out of most leaves including oak, sycamore, rose and mandrake. However one leaf was prized above all, the razor leaf. The razor leaf is so named because of its ultra thin and sharp edges. It is said that a cut from a razor leaf is the most painful a person can receive as proven on the Wong-Baker Scale, reaching an eye-watering 10.
The razor leaf, can be found on the razor bushes exclusive to Alfadanga, Bangladesh. Picking the leaves has become so dangerous that Port East International has produced special protective gloves just for this purpose.
Razorlettes was the British slang name for girls who worked on razor bush plantations harvesting razor leaves for tea. Because of the danger and the extreme difficulty in harvesting and processing the leaves, the price for one pound of razor leaf tea grew to ten times the price of the equivalent weight in gold. One story is recounted of a sailor who exchanged a diamond necklace for a cup of razor leaf tea.
Today the leaves are harvested by machine and processed by robots developed by Micrasoft. Because of its mass production, prices have come down significantly, however, drinking razor leaf tea is still the privilege of the richest 1%.
We arrived in Alfadanga after a successful clothes shopping trip in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. The fine fabrics and tight weave of shirts and sweaters could only be achieved by the skilled labor of Dhaka’s children, for which we thank and salute them.
A short flight from Dhaka airport brings you to Alfadanga, where even from the air you can already see the plush razor bushes near the landing strip. The runway actually is a thin strip between the bushes. It was built by a Brazilian company to service the Br̥hadōṣṭha area where the bushes grow thickest.
The bushes have a strange almost fish-like smell and we were reminded that the razor leaves do need to be processed for quite a long period before they can be dried and packaged.
We were driven to the main razor bush plantation where giant harvesting machines were hard at work. Workers with mainly gloved or bandaged hands milled around looking busy.
Our guide showed us the drying facility and the packaging plant where the tea is either packaged into bags and boxes for the locals or special metal boxes for the Russian market. The price difference was quite unreal. Russians pay 1,000 times the price the locals are charged.
The owner of the factory pulled up in his Porsche and greeted us cordially.
After the tour we were allowed to walk through the razor bush fields. Each of us was issued a kevlar suit including gloves and allowed to explore the razor bushes. It was fun rubbing our hands on the bushes knowing we were totally protected and that without gloves our fingers would be reduced bloody stumps. How we laughed.
To find out more about the razor bush tour and optional spa visit http://www.razorteabushtour.com