This is a book that you need to read after coming home from a hard day’s work, with your feet up, while sipping — what else — a cup of freshly brewed Darjeeling tea. In today’s fast-forward world, such indulgences are rare and the easier option is to dunk a tea bag into a cup of hot water and pretend to enjoy the resulting mix. In truth, we are denying ourselves one of life’s great pleasures. If there’s one item produced in India that confidently carries the tag “the world’s finest”, it is Darjeeling tea. Of all the tea produced in China, Sri Lanka, India, Kenya and Turkey, Darjeeling carries a special cachet, much like caviar, foie gras or truffles. In most duty-free shops across the world, the one item with a made-in-India tag will be a pack of Darjeeling tea.

Tea is also grown in Assam, the Nilgiris, and the Dooars area of north Bengal, so what makes Darjeeling tea so special? Actually, it’s a lot like premium wine, where what the French call terroir — soil, climate, terrain, location and other factors — imparts a unique quality to whatever is grown there. Anybody who has been to Darjeeling, one of India’s loveliest hill stations, will have experienced its unique, old-world atmosphere and flavour, much like the product that is nurtured in its tea gardens.

Of course, there’s much more to what makes Darjeeling, and Darjeeling tea (the black variety as opposed to green tea made in China) so very special and Gillian Wright is eminently qualified to bring us up to speed on the magic and mystery behind Darjeeling’s famous product. She has made India her home for the last 20 years and collaborated with Sir Mark Tully on a number of books. More importantly, she has also produced a book on the hill stations of India.

The British, as we know since we inherited the passion, are a bit mad about tea but were also pioneers of tea production in India. All the original managers of tea gardens in the early days were from Britain, mainly Scotland.

The British connection may have inspired Wright but it’s not just a coffee-table variety with lots of pretty pictures. This is a serious, in-depth look at the history of Darjeeling tea and the elements that go into its making, but one that is made lively and entertaining with her style, personal involvement and discussions with a range of people, from retired and current tea planters, manufacturers, buyers at tea auctions and workers, including the nimble-fingered women who pluck the leaves from the bush.

Wright treats this book much like one would brew a cup of Darjeeling tea, allowing it to simmer in the pot and absorb the aromas. That process constitutes her research into how the tea plants first made their way to India from China to set up an industry that would, ironically, displace China as the leading maker and exporter of tea. We also learn that currently, the biggest buyers of high value tea like Darjeeling are Japan and Germany, where tea is becoming fashionable, and not Britain or America. Today, tea is the most popular drink in the world in terms of consumption, equalling all other manufactured drinks in the world — including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol — put together. Darjeeling, owing to its geography, soil and climate, has been producing premium teas for a century now, and they are still considered both rare and expensive, comparable to some of the most expensive wines. If you want to know why, Wright’s effort is worth savouring.

Source: Indian Express