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General Inspiration Journal Tea

Adventure in India – Day Seven

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.

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General Inspiration Journal Tea

Adventure in India – Day Six

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.

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General Inspiration Journal Tea

Adventure in India – Day Five

Today was a mostly tea-less day. I played tourist today starting with a delicious breakfast at the Mayfair Hotel. So much history everywhere I step. The Mayfair has named their library after Tenzing Norgay, the first man to conquer Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. Upon Norgay’s death, his estate gave the hotel the ice pick used by Norgay on his climb. Priceless.

From the Mayfair the morning continued on to the Yiga Choeling Ghoom Monastery, a Buddhist monastery that was built in 1850.  I walked in silence and entered the monastery to have my moment of silence and prayer.  I was reminded of the Japanese principal of Ichigo Ichie – one time one place.  It is the understanding that every moment and every experience we have in life will never again repeat itself in the same way twice.  I stayed in the moment.

The unexpected surprise today was a visit to Campbell House.  For those of you that don’t know, Dr Campbell was a civil surgeon stationed in Darjeeling g in 1841.  He was the first to successfully plant the Chinese tea varietal in India.  It is thanks to Dr Cambell that we enjoy the  astounding flavours of Darjeeling tea. It is the unique combination of Chinese muscatal flavours, high altitudes that make the tea struggle (more on that tomorrow) that create such a unique flavour in the teas from this region.  I was indeed fortunate enough to pluck a few leaves from that original tea bush that Dr Campbell planted all those years ago.

I suppose in some ways, the day was touched by seeing how two men made such an impression on history – in different ways.  The morning visit to the monastery however, reminded me that greatness is everywhere.  It is in each and every one of us and may be found in the smallest of gestures.  It is in the man in charge of tea making we met at Castleton last night.  Whose weathered face had eyes shining with pride at our appreciation of his tea. It is in the smile you give to a stranger allowing them to know that someone saw them today.  Sometimes we don’t need to try and make history – most great people don’t.  If we spent more time being present, we might find that greatness is everywhere.  Ichigo Ichie.

 

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General Inspiration Journal Tea

Adventure in India – Part Two

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I left blistering hot Kolkata this morning and finally arrived at the home of some of the world’s most beloved teas.  The prize of this journey. Darjeeling.

We started with one of the most interesting estates, Rohini. Interesting not only in the teas that are being produced, but also in the methods and varietals being used. The two main varietals of tea are the Chinese and Indian.  The far less known type is from Japan and not generally seen outside that country, until today.

The region of Darjeeling is special and unique for so many reasons. One of them being that they are able to successfully grow the two main varietals in the same region. I suppose it isn’t a stretch for someone to try the third and find that it does indeed work.

Rohini however does not stop there. They are producing traditional Chinese teas such as Long Jing and Ti Kuan Yin. A walk through the factory also shows machinery such as drying beds, rollers and steamers, from China, Japan and Taiwan.  They are taking the best methods and combining them to continue elevating the flavours of their teas.  They are respecting the work of their fellow tradesmen and learning from them.  Not something we see a lot of today.

With much anticipation and trepidation, I got in the car to continue the day’s journey to the town of Darjeeling. This is a trip that would take me from elevations of 1000 feet (Rohini) to 7100 feet (Darjeeling Town). All on a road barely wide enough for one car and yet managed to accommodate two way traffic, a small railroad as well as pedestrian traffic.

The car climbed and climbed higher and higher and for a moment I felt like Jack in the Beanstalk disappearing into the clouds.  As the car struggled though, I though about my beautiful Darjeeling teas that I so enjoy. And I thought of the journey they go through to get to my cup. The people dedicated to the craft, hand picking teas on these very hills. The tea estate owner full of love and passion for a product he wants to keep relevant so that he can fulfill, the obligations he feels in his soul to the many families for whom he is responsible.

I looked at the houses built on these steep inclines appearing to be teetering over the edge. And I looked at the bricks and rails and flower pots and roof shingles that were all carried up this mountainside to create a community that in turn makes our teas. The teas that are then carried down that same mountainside to find its way to you and to me.

When you see that, all you can be is but filled with deep respect. Because anything else would be an insult to what goes into our beautiful Darjeelings.

Think of that the next time you sit with your cup. Despite our dreaded disease called ‘busyness’ we all have 1 minute in which we can just stop and pay respect.

I don’t think it was any great accident that the wife of the owner of Rohini thea estate handed me a small book by Dadi Janki, one of the founding members of Brahma  Kumaris. The card with the book says “do not suppress your mind but uplift it with gentleness”.  Seeing the first glimpse of these majestic mountains, I know that that gentleness is a part of the air and the spirit here. I pay respect.

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General Inspiration Journal Tea

Adventure in India – Day One

 

 

It has been the longest journey to get from point A to point B, but we made it. In blistering hot Kolkata at the end of my first day here. The city is as expected and anticipated – loud, noisy and chaotic. Cars do not stop honking, there is no semblance of traffic laws that anyone seems to follow, and yet, somehow everyone gets to where they are going.

The day began at the Kolkata Tea Auction. The tea auction has become largely electronic, which means that the action of days gone by are just that, days gone by. You can now log into an authorized account and have full access to the days goings on as well as the full history of previous teas auctioned off.  The brilliance of the system of course, is that one can do this from wherever they are. No longer do you need to be present or have a broker present at the auction house. Whether this is better or worse for the industry, only time will tell.

From auction, up the stairs to J. Thomas and Co.’s tasting rooms.  They are the largest and oldest existing tea auction in the world and the tasting room felt like stepping into the pictures printed in books that are falling apart at the seams. Walking the halls makes you think of the stories the walls could tell. The stained teacups make you wonder about all the teas that have passed through them. And the etched on board room table, makes you wonder about the people who have sat there over the years deciding the fate of a vast industry.

The day went on to a meeting at The Tea Board of India – enlightening and all rather business. And that is what made our last stop that much more special. A visit to Motherhouse Convent. The home and resting place of Mother Theresa. Standing in silence at her tomb. Kneeling on cold marble with the nuns saying evening prayers.

How does the day all make sense?  It actually does. The day was wrapped up in one word, humility. From the halls of J. Thomas to the tasting rooms which have existed for over 150 years. Walls and space that have existed long before I existed. It forces you to realize that you are just one more small piece in the greater picture that makes up this business. A temporary caretaker of this industry.  You are here to do your part and then pass it on to the next generation. It just seemed appropriate to have that all wrapped up in the ultimate picture of humility…Mother Theresa.

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General Journal Tea

The delights of fresh spring tea

Most of you may know or remember my immense love for this time of year.  The season of First Flush teas.  Our office was filled with samples six weeks ago and we carefully chose two delightful teas for you this year.  The first is from Jungpana – a magnificent tea garden dating back 100 years in the breathtaking mountains of Darjeeling.  To this day, there is no road that allows cars to drive up into the estate – it is connected only by a trail for mules that can bring the tea laden chests 500 feet below to roads.  The work and dedication that goes into these teas is unmatched.

The second tea we chose for you this year is from the Goomtee estate.  An estate we have carried in the past and decided to re-visit again this year.  Like so many of the estates in Darjeeling, this one dates back to the late 19’th Century and has always maintained the traditions inherent in the art of making tea.

So what’s so special about First Flush Darjeeling?  Well, first, there is a small window during which they are available.  They are the very first picked teas after the long harvest rest of the winter months.  Darjeelings are unique for so many reasons – but the subtle, buttery and smooth finish of First Flush Darjeelings are like no other.  It’s like a special treat, available just once a year and I hope you love it as much as I do.

With love,

Teagirl

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General Inspiration Journal Tea

Tea and Books…Books and Tea

I know.  I hear you.  It’s cold.  It’s February.  And the colour green outside is a distant memory.  But I’m afraid that there are certain things in life over which you have ZERO control – the weather happens to be one of them.  So…I have decided that the only thing I have control of, is how I react to the misery outside.  I have to admit that that quite often means hibernation.  But why not??  When I have my lovely dog and my house…(read nest)…I have delicious tea and I have the best and most affordable escape of all…a book.

I have to admit that I’ve always been a voracious reader.  I was the child who loved to read.  I was the child who never ever had to be told to read.  I would soak in books like a sponge and still do.  I curl up with a  blanket and dive into the deep ocean of characters and places, lost in my imagination.  Movies are great – and anyone who knows me, knows I love those as well.  But a book allows you to use your own imagination.  Visualizing and seeing the images the author has created.

I think perhaps that is why, for me, a good book goes hand in hand with a fabulous cup of tea.  When I sit and reflect on the tea I am drinking, I visualize the journey it has been through to  make its way into my cup.  And that my friends, is a rather amazing journey – I promise to post on that soon.  Equally, I love choosing my tea to suit the mood of my book.  Something soothing and delicate for a gentle book (Green, White and Oolong). Something spicy and evocative for a racy book (Chai, Lapsang Souchong).  Something energizing and lively for a suspense filled book (Black and Flavoured Black Tea).  What other beverage in the world can you match your mood with quite like tea?

What are you reading and what are you drinking?

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Inspiration Journal Tea

Valentine

Some of you love the day of love…others not so much.  I get it, it’s a day you’ve been instructed to show your love, and perhaps we shouldn’t have to designate specific days to it.  Perhaps we should just show the ones we love that we do, all of the time.  Having said that, isn’t it lovely to set aside days as reminders – extra reminders – birthdays as a day to celebrate your life and valentine as a day to celebrate your love.

What most people don’t know is that February 14th is the designated day of the feast of  St Valentine, the day set aside to commemorate the life of the Saint.  Valentine was a Roman priest in the 3rd Century at a time when the Emperor, Claudius, had banned marriage for all young men. Claudius believed that single men would be better fighters and more loyal to him.  Valentine however, continued marrying young lovers in secret, defying the law.  Valentine was of course executed when the Emperor discovered what he was doing.

However you choose to celebrate – tell someone you love them xx

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General Journal Tea Tea Education

A Weekend with Lovers of Tea

What a lovely weekend I have had.  Tea drinkers have a fundamental element in common…they actually LOVE tea.  Ask a tea drinker why they drink tea and I promise you the reaction will be:  a big smile, and some sort of emotional response – it makes them feel good, it’s comforting, it reminds them of their mother/grandmother, etc.  Tea drinkers WANT tea, whereas coffee drinkers NEED coffee.  Those are two very different statements – one is an emotional response and the second is one of necessity.

It’s like we’ve all fallen into a cult and just can’t seem to get enough.  This weekend, tea lovers gathered at the Toronto Reference library for the Toronto Tea Festival.  A weekend of tea, tea books, tea macarons, tea talks and tea ceremonies.  The festival had everything to offer – from the finest teas from around the world, experts sharing their knowledge of tea and even a machine that will blend your tea and make you a cup all at the same time!

We thoroughly enjoyed our time, mixing with our customers, with some of our fabulous teas – and I did what I love doing best – sharing my love of tea at my talk:  Wellness Tea.  We featured some of our favourite wellness teas at the show this year:  Sencha Kiwi Garden, Fields of Peaches, Sunshine Mate, Citrus Sunburst, Yellow Dragon PuEhr, Rooibos Sweet Embrace.

Thank you to all of you that attended.  And for those of you that missed it…sign up for one of our events or browse our website for all our delicious teas

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Journal Tea Tea Education

TEA FESTIVAL

A festival dedicated just to tea?  Yes!  This weekend in Toronto.  Get in out of the cold and come visit our booth – try some fabulous teas – and get some amazing products at festival special prices.  And…best of all…teagirl will be giving a talk on Wellness Tea on Sunday February 1st from 11-12.

See you all on Sunday 🙂