Summer 2018 • 59
58 • Vacations
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
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
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
• 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.