An offer of tea is difficult to refuse,
Even when a little climbing is involved.
Pictures taken in Gangtok, Sikkim.
When a friend returned from a trip to Ooty I was very pleased to see him.
When he presented me with four caddies of Nigiri, single-estate teas,
I was delighted!
Being on the road involves frequent stops for tea.
Quite apart from enjoying the drink, it is good to stretch your legs and give the driver a break.
The snacks and facilities are variable:
The proprietors are friendly but curious.
Each has a certain dignity
And could no doubt tell a moving story of life’s struggles.
Remarkably good, if sometimes a little smoky…
We had spent the weekend in Mysore.
Monday morning required an early start to continue our tour.
Though, as the song so neatly puts it:
“I like a nice cup of tea in the morning.”
Normally, I am woken each day by my kindly house-boy’s greeting of:
“Good morning Papa. You sleep OK?”
He carries a large mug of this wonderful drink.
Its absence would imply some sort of crisis.
Before living in India, I assumed the subcontinent would be awash with tea.
I was mistaken.
Coffee is now the more popular drink in India.
When not at home, trying to get a cup of tea any time outside of breakfast and “tea-time” can prove challenging.
Even ordering early morning tea in a tourist hotel brings surprises to the unwary.
In India, tea powder (finely ground lea leaves), milk and copious amounts of sugar are all boiled together in the preparation of tea.
Should you not wish to court diabetes or dental disaster with this decidedly caustic brew of syrupy tannins, firm instruction to room service are required:
“Please. Sugar Separate!”
When the order is delivered to your room the consequences of a different tea culture are made manifest.
The spoons are often enormous –
– And the cups invariably minute.
My solution is to order tea for two – or three.
Occasionally this stirs the waiters to peer with puzzlement around the hotel room, in search of my early morning guests.
But more often, it is merely attributed to further eccentricities in the firangi.
The tea, by the way, was excellent!
One of the delights of our recent trip to Nelliampathi was visiting the local tea plantations. They are a sensual delight.
Perhaps the colour is due to the tea bushes themselves, for constant plucking keeps their growing tips always young and fresh.
Maybe it is the altitude required for tea cultivation.
Possibly, the effect is a combination of both factors.
But the sheer intensity of the green shrubs against clear blue skies is almost breath-taking.
Left wild, tea bushes will grow to a height of well over 10 metres (more than 30 ft.), but for leaf-harvesting they are pruned to less than 1.5 metres (5 ft.)
Tall slender trees are planted alongside these close-cropped tea bushes. Their leaves and branches provide shade, while the roots help protect thin mountain soil from monsoon erosion.
There is only one species of tea-plant:
It was initially native only to China.
All teas are made from its varieties and cultivars.
When the drink arrived in Europe, it became a sensation.
In time, the East India Company set up tea plantations to feed this habit and several different accounts of the Indian tea industry’s origins have emerged.
While the British were desperate to drink this stimulating new infusion, the Chinese had no interest in trading tea for the proffered opium or English wool and would only accept silver for its purchase.
Perfidious Albion had only meagre reserves of silver. Their solution was to steal the plants.
Once smuggled out of China, tea was soon grown in the hill country of India by the British colonists.
Combined with sugar, grown with slave-labour from the West Indies, tea became the defining drink of Britain and its Empire.
For more information on the early politics of Indian tea cultivation, I commend Amitav Ghosh‘s beautifully written “The Sea Of Poppies“. It is the first novel in a projected trilogy, set just before the First Opium War.
The book gives fascinating insights into the interplay of slave trade, the devastation wreaked on Indian agriculture by the East India Company’s fostering a switch from food to opium production and British demands that China buy this opium.
“Tea tempers the spirit and harmonizes the mind; dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness”
From “The Classic of Tea” by Lu Yu, The Sage of Tea, Chinese Artist and horticulturist. (733 – 804)