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.
A few facts about tea
TAKING A TEA PILGRIMAGE TO DARJEELING
• 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.
By Mariellen Ward
FRESHLY PICKED DARJEELING TEA LEAVES
INDIA PICKERS WALKING THROUGH TEA PLANTATION IN DARJEELING, INDIA
A NICE DARJEELING CUPPA
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.
OVERLOOKING DARJEELING, THE TEA CAPITAL OF INDIA
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.
58 • Vacations ® • Summer 2018
Vacations® • Summer 2018 • 59
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