Champagne of Tea
As a native of Darjeeling, tea for us is not just a commodity which has put us on the map of India. Throughout the ages, it has shaped and influenced the landscape and its people in these hills providing warmth, medicinal and aesthetic values and opportunity for many whose livelihood depend on it.
Everyday unfolds with a cup of tea, with renewed hopes for a brighter day and calms away our fatigues towards the end. The heady aroma of tea leaves fills the morning air as it is infuses in the potion of liquid for brewing. The scent of the leaves wafting is such an enticing sight as the wind howls and reminds us of the aching cold outside. Out in the distance, nothing seems visible anymore, shrouded in heavy mist; people seem to come out of nowhere like ghost. It beckons all and sundry. You drown yourself in the mellow bittersweet flavor of the leaves, slowly spreading through your senses, rejuvenating you for another day, another event, in your life.
Tea leaves here is known for its captivating unique muscatel flavor, referring to the sweet floral aroma of the Muscat grape, tough to describe this word as people have given various meaning to it according to their sense of taste. Generally you get a delicate fruity smell along with a touch of woodiness and sweet smell that lingers on. But this depends on tea variety be it black, white, oolong or green tea and also the season in which it is plucked, first flush, second flush, autumnal or summer.
Enriched with flavinoids and plenty of health boosting antioxidants, tea is an elixir of life for these hills. Teekampagne, a German enterprise has greatly realized the value of Darjeeling tea to which there seems nothing truly similar in the entire world. It has recognized and encouraged the practice of tea making in this region, indirectly renewing the fate of those sustained by tea.
I feel, but affection for the past, for this rich legacy we have cultivated from the British and optimism for the future. For these blanket of vast greens have withstood harsh times and crisis of mismanagement, revenue and land lease authority, lack of infrastructure, fluctuating ownership, etcetera. Today there are around 86 tea gardens in Darjeeling, all estates give a varying produce in their taste, aroma, briskness depending upon their elevation, soil type, rainfall.
History always leaves an impact, it can be bitter or sometimes for the better. Our path has been tumultuous, with nothing much to cherish except the mighty Kanchenjunga, yet fate has given us this gift which since then has been deeply engraved within these valleys and meandering streams. It has adapted well in the elevation, topographical and climatic conditions of these hills.
Not forgetting that these gardens are the output and hard work of many cultures and generations, the purity of this unique leaves must be preserved. You can even hear stories of these desolate mountains, of its people when you echo through the hills, but then you have to listen carefully!
Lu T’ung, a Chinese poet and connoisseur of tea summarizes the essence of tea drinking in his “Song of Tea”….
The first cup moistens my lips and throat.
The second cup breaks my loneliness.
The third cup searches my barren entrail,
but to find therein some thousand volumes of odd ideographs.
The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration;
all the wrongs of life pass out through my pores.
At the fifth cup I am purified.
The sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals.
The seventh cup – ah, but I could take no more!
I only feel the breath of the cool wind that raises in my sleeves.
Where is Paradise? Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither.
– Lu T’ung
Savor the experience of a great Darjeeling tea, but as the saying goes, do not drink it, relish it!