Teagirl has been MIA for the past few days. Not because I didn’t want to share with you or had nothing to share with you, but rather because I was cut off from wifi – perhaps not a bad thing for a few days.
I entered Assam yesterday and as I told you in my last post – it is miles of the all around. Assam is the largest tea producing region in the world. The flavours of the teas are very different than this if Darjeeling. First, they are all the Assamica tea plants rather than the Chinese one. Second, they are grown at low altitudes. The resut is a robust and full bodied tea that is quite often in your breakfast blends.
I will admit that I was not expecting the same stories and passions in the gardens of Assam, which is why the first stop was truly inspirational. Heritage Tea Assam. The Managung Director, Mr. Rajen Baruah, has been a professional tea planter for 30 years. He “believes the world is full of dreamers, hence, one should move ahead and take concrete steps to actualize ones vision”.
Mr Baruah runs this small piece if idealism with his wife June and two sons Ronnie and Ishan. The years of working for major corporations is what made Mr Baruah want to provide a place for small farmers to sell their tea at better prices. His belief and passion in the quality of the leaf that can be produced when people are not driven by purely quantity is the core of this beautiful business.
Providing a place for small farmers however isn’t all this family does. They are central to the nurturing of the virgin lands found north of Assam in the hills of Arunchul Pradish. He has created his own machinery – small enough to be put in the homes of the locals allowing the women to perform the production while the men do the plucking and tending to the land. Quite a different dynamic than anywhere else in this industry.
And yes – the proof is in the liquor – the liquor of the tea that is. How could I possibly taste these teas and not drink in the commitment and integrity behind it. How could I just cup this tea looking purely for laboratory analysis. It would be an insult to what is happening here.
This family has committed their business to empowering others. And that is a gift that is truly priceless.
Darjeeling is behind me and I am now in Assam. The world’s largest tea producing region. And I now understand fully as there is tea absolutely everywhere. The air feels tropical, the terrain is flat and all around for miles and miles you can see only tea bushes.
There has been much talk in the last few days on the merits or faults of what are called clonal teas. Please do not confuse that with genetically modified, because they are not. Cloning means taking a cutting off a mother bush, planting it, and from that grows a new tea bush. The clonal is an exact replica of the mother bush. Think Dolly the sheep.
Why do tea estates practise cloning? Because a cloned bush yields a higher production. It also produces a harvest of identical leaf characteristics.
The down side of cloning is that the cloned bushes have a shorter life span, and the flavours of the tea produced are not as high in quality as the original.
There are certainly arguments to be made on both sides, but this tea girl has a rather firm position. Tea is a crop, it isn’t homogeneous, and yet we are trying to make it so. In doing that, we are losing all the uniqueness, all the individuality, all the personality of the tea leaf. I don’t want a homogenous product.
The need for tea estates to have high yield on crop, I fully empathize with. I caution however that that should not be done at the expense of the future. Over producing cloned plants that have shorter lives is forgetting that there is another generation to pass these gardens and these traditions on to. We are all only temporary caretakers.
Celebrate the unique flavours, rejoice in the fact that no two cups of tea are the same. Let’s stop trying g to create uniformity. How dull the world would be if we were all the same.
It has been a day of travel today – Darjeeling to Kolkata to a delightful evening hosted by Mr Singh, the Chairman of Goodricke. To say that we were greeted by warmth and kindness would be a gross understatement. The kindness I have been shown in the past few days has been unmatched. And the hospitality simply humbling.
I said yesterday that I would talk about the complex flavours of Darjeeling teas. There are so many reasons why Darjeeling is so unique. The unique Chinese tea bush is one, the mixed oxidation leaves is another. The third is the high altitude the tea is grown at, and this is where I think of teas leaves like people.
The higher the altitude the tea is grown at, the more complex the flavours become. When we are at high altitudes, as I’ve discovered I the past few days, we struggle as well. Our breathing is shallower and we tend to slow down. The tea leaf reacts in very much the same way – it’s growth slows down and it struggles. That struggle is what produces complexity and interest. Much like us. Each and every one of as our own story. We struggle, we go on and we survive. And we all come out the other end more interesting than when we went in.
Remember that the next time you sit with a cup of tea. Think of the struggle that leaf went through to produce the delicious flavours in your cup. And when you do that, think of the person who has tested your patience, driven you mad, and provoked your anger today. And then remember that they have a story, a complex story with struggles…you just don’t know their story.