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Vacations® •

Summer 2018 • 59

58 • Vacations

®

Summer 2018

Worldly Delights

Many years later, my love of tea eventually took me to Darjeeling,

the tea capital of India. What Rishikesh is to yoga and Goa is to

beach parties, Darjeeling is to tea. From the ramshackle town

that covers several steep hillsides in West Bengal, India, tea

plantations spread out in every direction. The altitude, climate, and

topography of this region in the lower Himalayas give tea bushes

the right conditions to flourish.

Though the tea industry in India did not start in Darjeeling – it

was begun by the British in nearby Assam in the 19th century

– the region is known for producing what many consider to be

the best black tea in the world. Darjeeling tea is often called the

“Champagne of tea,” to denote the effect of the terroir on the

flavour.

So, for someone like me, a trip to Darjeeling was like a pilgrimage.

I went to celebrate a red-letter birthday, and there were three

things I wanted to do. One, to witness the sunrise as it splashed

the colours of dawn over the white wall of the not-too-distant

Himalayan peaks from Tiger Hill. Two, to drink tea at a historic tea

house. And three, to walk among the tea plantations. I wanted to

know if tea plants evoke the same kind of uplifting refreshment

that drinking tea does.

The first thing I did after checking in to my hotel was to drive to

one of the 87 tea estates in Darjeeling that have been accorded

the right to label its produce as Darjeeling Tea by the Tea Board of

India. I toured Happy Valley tea estate and, after spending time in

the factory, walked out among the tea bushes.

The bushes came up to about my waist and were arranged in

undulating rows over vast, rolling hills, like a tapestry in shades of

green and blue. It was like they had been raked by a Zen master.

OVERLOOKING DARJEELING, THE TEA CAPITAL OF INDIA

TAKING A TEA PILGRIMAGE

TO DARJEELING

One of my earliest childhood memories is having tea parties with my grandmother at our house in

Montreal. She had given me a plastic tea set, as I was only about four years old, and I recall we sipped

very weak tea and nibbled honey butter sandwiches. Later, for Christmas, she gave me a tea set made of

white porcelain, gilded with gold and decorated with coloured images of European aristocrats from the

17th century. This took our parties up a notch or two – and probably cemented my lifelong love of tea.

By Mariellen Ward

INDIA PICKERS WALKING THROUGH TEA

PLANTATION IN DARJEELING, INDIA

A NICE DARJEELING CUPPA

FRESHLY PICKED DARJEELING TEA LEAVES

I was in Darjeeling in March, just before the “first flush”

harvest, and alone in the tea garden. I walked for some

distance and couldn’t see another soul. I stopped to look

closely at the bushes, to take in the tender top leaves

glistening and bright in the afternoon light. I heard birds

singing and took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air

spiked with a green and earthy scent.

It was then that I realized, I had not yet actually had a cup

of Darjeeling tea in Darjeeling, and yet I felt a sense of

profound peacefulness. Very much like the feeling I get

from relaxing with a cup of tea.

A few facts

about tea

• There are five varieties of Darjeeling tea: first

flush, picked in early spring and has a gentle,

light colour and flavour; in between is harvested

between the two flush periods; second flush is

harvested in June and has a fuller flavour, often

described as muscatel; monsoon is harvested

during the rains and used to make masala chai;

autumnal flush is harvested after the rains and

has a darker colour but less flavour.

• There are four categories of black tea: whole leaf,

broken leaf, fannings and dust. Fannings and

dust are generally used to make tea bags and tea

mixtures such as masala chai.

• There are many grades of whole leaf tea. Orange

Pekoe is the most basic grade, and it describes

the best, most tender leaves plucked from the

tips of the plant’s young shoots. The top grade is

Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

which is the very best with a large proportion of

leaves having golden “tips” of new leaf buds —

a guarantee of very, very high quality.