“Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space?”
― D.T. Suzuki,
Such is the impact of tea in everyone’s life. Tea is a culture. From the first cup of tea till now, it has been a part of life. An inseparable part. The possibility of multiple uses makes tea a favourite with all.
When we were invited for a tea tasting session with a wonderful personalised invite, it was tough to turn it down. Kolkata has started experiencing the monsoon from this week, so on a Thursday amidst the rainfall we reached Goodricke Tea house.
Read – 5 tea joints in Kolkata which you cannot miss. Which one is your favourite? (Link here)
Established in 1977, Goodricke started operating with 17 tea estates – 12 in Jalpaiguri, 3 in Darjeeling and 2 in Darrang estate in Assam. All these estates comprising of various tea gardens were owned by Sterling which later merged with Goodricke in 1978. Several brands are available in Goodricke tea like Castleton premium, Castleton vintage, Roasted, Thurbo, Darjeeling premium, all in the tea leaves section; the CTC part has got Khaas, Zabardast and Goodricke Chai.
When we entered the tasting room, it was an experience of a lifetime. Two veteran tea tasters took us through the process of tea tasting. While the CTC varieties are tasted with the milk, the leaf varieties are tasted without the milk. Grading/ Ranking of three stages help the tea get its final ranking. The dry leaves, the infusion (infused leaves) and finally the liquor. The tasting also involves sipping the tea with a loud and sharp slurp and in the process rolling the tea along the entire tongue. While the sound has to be mandatory, the scientific reason for the same is that while slurping the tongue rolls and all the taste buds get opened.This is the backbone of this industry as this process determines the prices quoted by the company and eventually the buyers. While no tea leaf variety gets rejected, unless of course a brew is incredibly bad or overly burnt or has got infused with some strange flavour, a constant rating at regular interval means any change in the quality will get highlighted and the necessary steps can be taken.
The tea gardens are like the manufacturing units and huge responsibility lies with estate managers who are responsible for the gardens. Located in beautiful locale all across North Bengal and Assam, the tea garden is a place worth visiting. Although late, tea tourism has now started in India and it is only a matter of time when Goodricke will join this business. While discussing gardens and stories about them, its worth checking out this film on a little girl named Margaret and how one of the tea estates was named as Maragaret’s Hope after her. (link here)
We learnt the details of two ways of preparing the tea, which is the CTC production and the Orthodox production. While the CTC means Crush tear and curl and the tea produced like this is used mostly in Tea bags and for Assam tea, the Orthodox method involves 5 stages namely withering, rolling, fermentation,drying and storing and is used mostly for Darjeeling premium leaf tea. Depending upon the soil, rainfall, nature of plucking and time of plucking, the taste of the tea varies. It is interesting to note here that two tea gardens located side by side would never have the same tasting tea leaves.There is no shame in admitting that till this meeting, we didn’t know much about another key aspect of tea – the flushes. The tea plants go through periods of growth and then dormancy, a flush is the period of the growth and then harvesting of the tea leaves either through machine or manually. The first flush is the first growth after dormancy and is believed to be the premium tea priced at maximum. This one happens between late February to Mid April or early March to Mid April. Other than the first flush, there is second flush (the growth and harvesting after a brief period of dormancy), where the brew is always more robust and strong. The harvesting period for the second flush is late May to June. There is also the monsoon flush (the growth and harvesting that happens after monsoon in September) and then there is Autumn flush (harvesting between October and November).
Accounting for nearly 31 percent of the global production of tea, in India this industry is perhaps one of the biggest Foreign exchange earner as well as contributor to the GNP. In fact most of the Darjeeling tea produced by Goodricke is exported. Goodricke tea plays a significant role in this entire landscape and with the introduction of the RTD or Ready to drink varieties, which come in Hot Water Soluble (HWS) and Cold water soluble (CWS) variants of Instant Black, Green, Oolong and Darjeeling tea, the future days are definitely going to be interesting.