Tea with Ainee
Teatime with ainee is sharing some tea read from the book by Jeff Koeler—Darjeeling, colorful history and precarious fate of the world’s greatest tea.
Said “is that tea has a strange influence over mood, the power to change the way things are perceived, for the better, so that we can believe and hope while under tea’s influence do otherwise what would be given up in discouragement and despair.”—
Darjeeling: Exquisite small-leafed varietal grown in the foothills of the Hymalayas (“Darjeeling” means “Land of thunderbolt”), it’s known for its clarity, light but flavorful cup and complex characteristics—including a distinctive “Muscat” aroma. Darjeeling’s are sometime identified and sold by estate (the plantation where the leaves were grown, such as Glenburn, Bloomfield, Namring, or Castleton).
Darjeeling known for its flush:
“First flush (April/May): plucked from the first growth: light and flowery
“Second flush (May/June): harvested from the second growth; fruitier and smoother
“Autumnal flush (timing depends on when monsoon rainfall occurs): Larger-leafed, harvested after the rainy season; “rounder” in taste.
Darjeeling teas are a scarcity and very expensive and they are rarely sold unblended. When the leaves come from a single harvest and are unblended they are called ‘vintage’.
This much I knew to be true of Darjeeling and so in reading Koehler’s book, I wanted to find out what is new or the same; so far the estates growing of Darjeeling are the same and no reason for otherwise; and the seasonal harvesting is same as well.
The story of Darjeeling is rich in history, intrigue and empire but no doubt is due to suffering losses in time for a change in the way the tea is cultivated and selected and this is because of the rise in technology. An example given is the staggering twenty-two thousand selectively hand-picked shoots—just the tender first two leaves and a still-curled bud-to produce a single kilo of Darjeeling tea. There is also the separatist un-rest which is pushing for independent statehood.
This book is beautifully divided into the Autumnal gathering of the leaves; with the journey into the hills and from the east to the formation of company and that of the Indian tea industry with its product (Darjeeling Tea) of the China leaf which became the crux/loci of the company’s success. Koehler selected Darjeeling as the topic of choice and rightly so since it is ‘the choice of the global connoisseur.’
There is an explanation given earlier in the book about tea leaves having tannin and being unhealthy. “The leaves contain tannin which is harmful to the body,” Mahatma Gandhi had written of this in his book Key to Health. “Tannin is generally used in the tanneries to harden leather. When taken internally it produces a similar effect upon the mucous lining of the stomach and the intestine. This impairs digestion and causes dyspepsia.” A method known as CTC (cut, torn, curl) thus making the tea suited for boiling with milk and plenty of sugar and adding spices resulted with a vast number of roadside tea stalls to appear and the drink became popular within the country. Today, about 800 million kilograms (1.75 billion pounds)—80 percent of its total production is for the local market. These numbers do not apply to Darjeeling because around three-fourths of this tea is exported to some forty-three countries.
Tea we’re told is the most labor intensive of all crops to cultivate and Darjeeling’s pioneering planters had to settle to obtaining laborers to work on their estates…as these estates became self-contained communities housing thousands of people to live and work there.
Darjeeling’s early estate owners were not always from well-to-do or from affluent English blood; rather in the early days, only those Englishmen who failed to make it as soldiers, sailors, clerks, and by default, with nothing else to lose and nowhere else to go, took up life as a “tea planter.” They knew nothing at all about tea. Scoundrels, rascals, and scallywags enlisted to become lord and master of a little fiefdom called a tea garden in the exotic misty hills of Darjeeling.
Darjeeling practices and tea gardens cultivated much success and triumphed over the farming industry; be it organically like that of makaibari estate that was certified as an organic tea estate vs. Glenburn tea estates; so it became a question of Green tea vs. Black tea; well not a question really but another way of producing finest teas. Thus Darjeeling Green teas joined the family of teas already known as Darjeeling and now were selling as a health benefit to boot. Drinking Darjeeling green tea re-introduces the medicinal benefit which goes back to teas’ earliest days in China and Japan and even in Europe.
What’s to be noted here is that Tea Estates were becoming specialized as well as being successful croppers with these ‘specialty teas’ offering white teas, high-end green teas, and oolongs. Glenburn tea estates offered an Autumnal Oolong and another specialty tea called Silver Needle, the finest and most delicate white tea.
A flavorful cup of tea begins in the earth and one of the most encouraging signs of change in Darjeeling is the improving health of the soil. Gardens have taken and initiated measures to reverse decades of harmful agricultural techniques and have restored more traditional, natural tea-farming methods lost during independence surge in chemical inputs; resulting with Makaibari Biodynamic Tea Garden, the first of its kind.
The romance that started with Darjeeling continues to this very day; it is uncertain where Darjeeling will be some two decades from now? Yet, the soft-spoken Darjeeling tea will flourish today and always seemingly for its simplicity and contemplative of the cup being made—brewed. There is not flamboyance; one puts the kettle to boil while springing the lid open on a tin of Darjeeling tea with its aroma: grassy floralness of a spring tea, and spooning some dry leaves into the pot, or placing a tea bag from a tin and watching the bubbles form on the hot water over the leaves…waiting and watching as the leaves come alive in the cup. The leaves breathe and stretch in the pot…time passes slowly by marking the minutes, the muscatel flavors bloom, and the color of the tea’s liquor turns to shimmering brass or copper. And then, finally, pouring the strainer into a favorite teacup to sip.
In answer to moving ahead, where to go from here, we have: The crafting of tea (using centuries old machines and honed skills—new varieties and styles, and using ancestral methods passed down from tea planter, crafting teas that reflects both a specific place and specific season) of tea, one cup at a time. Darjeeling tea is not an industry; rather it’s a handicraft, a very specialized art.—Rajah Banerjee, tea planter—garden manager
What began as romance ends as such and with recipes to boot.
Some suggested recipes:
Perfect cup of tea:
Fresh Passion Fruit Chai
To accompany Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea Pound Cake
Onion Pakoras (Spicy Onion Fritters)
Timeless Cucumber Sandwiches
Glenburn’s Chicken-and-fresh-mint hamper sandwiches
Darjeeling Tea Sorbet
Recipes are to be found at end of the book along with notes, bibliography and index. Mr. Koehler’s book is very informative and plainly written, in that most persons of tea can appreciates his tea journey that of being a Darjeeling one.
This next book is a tea mystery read title: Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs
Tea is to be served for some two hundred annual historic homes garden party, with hostess and event caterer Theodosia serving of her delicious teas and blackberry scones while everyone seems please and jubilant. This successful event is short lived when an esteemed guest is found dead—his hand clutching an empty teacup. With her reputation at stake, Theodosia must track down the real killer before they strike again.
Tea mentions (s): as well as figuring how and why the esteemed guest had been poisoned…
“Here we are.” Samantha bustled in with a silver tea service. “Perhaps not as perfect as you at the Indigo Tea Shop, but hopefully just as elegant.”
“Theodosia knew Samantha was making reference to her silver tea set. Not just silver-plated, the teapot and accompanying pieces were pure English sterling, antiques that had been in Samantha’s family for over a century. ”
“Theodosia accepted the steaming cup of tea, inhaling the delicate aroma. Ceylon silver tips? Kenilworth Garden? She couldn’t quite place it.”
As understanding dawn on Theodosia, the chastising voice of Samantha Rabathan echoed dreamlike in Theodosia’s ears; “you’re not drinking your tea,” Samantha accused in a peevish, singsong voice as she slipped quickly to Theodosia’s side.
“Theodosia, stunned, gazed down at the teacup filled with deadly liquor, blinked, lifted her head again, and stared at the steel-jawed pruning shears with their curved Bowie knife blade and sharp tip poised just inches from her. In a single, staggering heartbeat she saw anger and triumph etched on Samantha’s face.”
Samantha who was in love with a married man, Hughes Barron, wanted him to leave his wife but he would not; so she began to poison him to simply make him sick so that he would need her… “Oh, please, At first I only tried to make him sick. So he would need me. Then I…” Samantha’s eye rolled crazily in her head as the she jabbed with the pruning shears, the sharp tip pressing in, dimpling the skin of Theodosia’s neck again and again.”
Theodosia wanted to keep Samantha talking; keep her communicating and engaged, seeing her still as a person. Theodosia shuddered, trying to keep at bay the thought of those nasty carbon steel pruning shears slicing into her neck. Samantha admitted to using ‘monkshood’ to poison Hughes Barron. “She’d learned something about this plant in the botany class she’d taken back when she first became serious about the tea business.
Don’t be impolite,” taunted Samantha. “Drink your tea.”
“The tea,” spat Samantha. “You are fast becoming a rude, unwelcome guest who has severely stretched my patience!”
Theodosia did not want to drink this laced tea but had no choice; feigning to want to add some sugar to her tea; Theodosia reached for two cubes, clutched them gently between her thumb and forefinger. Feeling the fine granulation of the sugar cubes between her fingers and as she drew her hand back, Theodosia suddenly dropped the sugar cubes as if they were a pair of hot dice. Her right hand wrapped around the handle of Samantha’s handsome silver teapot, clutching it for dear life. With every bit of strength she could muster, Theodosia swung the heavy teapot, filled to the brim with hot, scalding tea, toward Samantha. The silver lid flew forward, cutting Samantha in the cheek. Then hot tea surged out and met its intended target, splashing directly into Samantha’s face.
Having scalded her assailant, Theodosia was able to snatch the pruning shears and taking hold of the steel trowel from Samantha’s belt to disarm her from doing further harm. And after all of this, Theodosia was able to phone for help using her cell phone and they arrived immediately to handcuff Samantha and take her away.
A recipe worthy of mention from The Indigo Tea Shop
Theodosia’s Tea-Marbled Eggs
3 cups water
8 small eggs
2 tbs loose-leaf black tea
Or 4 tea bags black tea
1 tbs. kosher salt
Place eggs in pot with cold water, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10-12 minutes. Carefully remove eggs and reserve water. Place eggs in cold water, and when they’re cool enough to handle, gently tap eggs all around with the back of a spoon to make cracks. Add tea leaves to the reserved water and place eggs back in. Add the salt and simmer, covered, for one hour. Remove pot from stove and allow eggs to soak in tea water an additional 30 minutes. Then remove eggs and cool. Eggs will now have a brown marbleized design. To serve, slice eggs in half and sprinkle with paprika and minced parsley.
Teawithainee is not for telling of tales lace with mystery, love and deceit. Generally, it is tea hapse-stance that is made a mention of. Similar, is the history of Darjeeling as told by Koehler reminding us that a finer thing happens on hapse-stance; it was something of an afterthought, something almost accidental, because the area where Darjeeling is grown was never considered as a place for planting seeds.” The finest things happens when it is least expected. We are also to remember that tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. And of late my beverage of choice is water which keeps me company; but, I do implore others to continue with the enjoyment of that good cup of tea, as you like it.
Happy teas to all and thank you for reading!