In India, the gesture of putting your hands together is a very polite way of saying hello. As we start 2013, I also bring my hands together to welcome in another year, and hope that yours will be full of life and happiness.
I invite you to join me aboard the Darjeeling Limited. The steam engine belches out swirls of white smoke, its whistle echoes around the valley, and in a few moments it will set off in the direction of 2013.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year!
I don’t have reindeer or a sleigh to offer you from the countries I travel around so frequently. However, in terms of a sack, I do have something for you.
I wish you much happiness, and some lovely surprises beneath the tree.
On the tea plantations, the midday meal is a proper break.
Here, in Darjeeling, everyone gets their food out from their bag and sits down to eat, outdoors and in good spirits. The recycled cola bottles contain… tea!
During the oxidation process the tea leaves change colour, from green to brown. This only applies to black teas, of course.
Experience is everything when it comes to knowing when to end this stage. The factory manager must assess the colour of the leaves and their aroma, to decide if the tea has oxidised enough and it is time to dry it.
The buildings in which tea is processed are full of smells. Wilting produces the most pronounced aromas, while it is taking place, giving off vegetal, floral bouquets. The smell is so powerful, it literally transports you.
However, if you visit a tea factory outside the production season, like here at the Palampur Co-operative (India), other aromas are more dominant. You find yourself shutting your eyes to better appreciate the powerful smell of straw and horse hair.
Sometimes you find green particles in black tea that are not the pale-green buds that often accompany a fine pluck.
The particles I’m talking about here come either from the rolling process, if the leaves get slightly broken, or when leaves that are a bit too big are put through a machine like this one, to make them smaller. Note the serious expression of this worker, who appears to blend in with her machine.
When you make yourself a cup of tea, you naturally don’t need to measure out the leaves to the nearest milligram.
It’s not the same for me. At each comparative tasting the tea must be weighed with the utmost precision, otherwise I can’t assess each liquor properly.
The tea plantations in the Kangra region are dominated by a beautiful mountain range, the Dhauladhar. Its highest peak is 5,000 metres and it has cold winters that I don’t find unpleasant. This improves the quality of the spring harvest.
Tea tasting requires nothing more than a table, fresh water brought to the correct temperature, an attentive assistant and good light.
A peaceful place like this one helps you concentrate on the essentials: the tea’s aromas and flavours.