I am, by no means, a tea expert, but being a tea lover, I always look forward to tasting various flavours and qualities. Last year, when my friend and fellow tea enthusiast, Swarup, called me up to find out if I would be interested in joining a tea tasting event in Darjeeling organised by his company, I gladly agreed. It was, in fact, too good an offer to refuse. Plus, I had to be in Kurseong the same day for a meeting. I was thrilled at the way everything fell into place!
On reaching Darjeeling, I found Swarup waiting for me. He drove to me to the processing unit and gave me a quick tour around the area. Then, we headed towards the garden where the event was taking place. With the Himalayas stretched like a canvas before the eyes, and the cool breeze sweeping over the lush tea plantation, it was a mesmerizing atmosphere, to say the least. There were premium-quality Darjeeling teas in all shapes, textures, and flavours, and I realised that my taste buds are in for a treat.
Swarup introduced me to Tshering Sherpa, an ace tea taster in business for over 20 years. The charming middle-aged man, who decides the price of Darjeeling flavours, described the finer aspects of tea tasting. Three sensory perceptions — the sight, smell, and taste — are involved in decoding the grade of teas, he explained, as he led us to the tasting zone. The fact that the taste of tea differs due to climate, soil composition, and rainfall, makes the job of a tea taster even more complex.
Upon arriving at the tasting zone, I noticed a lady setting up samples of freshly plucked teas on a long table. She prepared 30 different samples by pouring hot water from a metallic kettle into ceramic containers with different qualities of loose tea leaves, all produced in this garden. Sherpa mentioned that the leaves need to be soaked for exactly five minutes before the tea is poured into a cup. The ideal temperature for tasting, to get the best flavour, is 40°C, so the tea should be left alone for a while to cool, Sherpa said.
As told, I closely observed the flavours, before sniffing and sipping one cup after the other. There was a bowl of hot water placed at the end of the table to wash off the previous flavour before sipping the next. But before I could finish tasting all of the samples, I had to leave or else I wouldn’t have reached Kurseong in time. I was rueful and all I could say was…“so many teas, so little time”. Swarup knew how much I’d have loved to stay and promised me yet another similar treat in future.
After returning to Kolkata, I got busy with work and life. Months passed by and suddenly on a Sunday morning, the doorbell rang. I found a courier boy at my doorstep, standing with a packet. I was a bit puzzled, as I couldn’t remember ordering anything. But yes, the parcel definitely had my name on it.
As I unwrapped the packet, there emerged a wooden box with the name of the garden I visited embossed on it. The tea sampler gift set, containing five compartments filled with top five loose leaf teas rated by tasters at the end of the tasting session. This was a gift by Swarup who also left a note attached: “Until the next tasting session”.
“Brewing time”, I told myself, but before getting immersed into the heady experience of irresistible flavours and aromas, I called up Swarup to thank him for the loose tea sampler gift set and the invitation for the next tasting event.