Tea is the most popular man made drink consumed in the world, and it out does all coffee, alcohol, and aerated drinks combined in terms of world consumption, and India is the world’s largest tea drinking nation. For us, tea is not just another drink. Its almost like an elixir of life. One really needs to come to Bengal in order to understand the important role tea plays in our lives, because its not just another drink. It is accompanied by adda, conversations, heated debates, poetic verses, arguments, agreements, memories and the customary telebhaja and muri. Some cannot begin their day without a hot cup of tea, while others need multiple cups of this intriguing potion as a daily fix. For some, its a necessity and for some, a feel good element.
I am a complete chai person. My day only begins with a large cup of adrak wali kadak chai, the lack of which causes me to malfunction. Well, not literally but I feel less zealous to move ahead with my life. Nevertheless, tea is a very important part of my day. I like my tea in two very distinct forms. One is loaded with milk and is very thick and creamy, while the other has no milk at all, which we normally call likaar chaa here in Bengal. So for me it was always these two kinds of tea and I never really cared about the blend or the source or even the process through which this tea was reaching my large size cup. And that’s only because of sheer ignorance. Until I received an invite from Goodricke Tea for a tea tasting session at their office. To be honest, one of the main reasons why I made it a point to brave the rains and go was that I was really curious about the tea tasting process because many years ago my next door auntyji was always raving about her tea taster son-in-law’s six figure salary ! I had this notion that its probably the easiest jobs in the world, where you get paid to drink chai all day ! Sounds super cool and easy right?
Its not. In fact its a very difficult job which requires a tremendous amount of focus, knowledge, patience, years of hard work and training. But let me come back to that in a minute.
Myself along with fellow bloggers were invited to this tea tasting session at Goodricke Tea’s office which is in Camellia House, which itself is a heritage building and has a century long history, with really high ceilings, antique furniture, the colonial feel blended with modern fittings and ambiance.
I had almost assumed that we would be given some six – seven cups of tea along with some information in a conference room kind of place, and boy was I so wrong! We were ushered into this huge sorting room where there was tea everywhere, in all shapes, sizes and forms! There were multiple rows of tea samples neatly labelled and the staff was working in full swing to get things done!
We had the pleasure of meeting tea taster Mr. Binod Gurung who has been associated with this profession for about twenty five years and he explained how intricate the tea manufacturing process was. Tea produced from each tea estate has a different taste, due to the soil, climate, rainfall and overall weather, and the job of a tea taster is to analyze the quality of the tea.
Mr. Gurung mentioned that in order to do so, a tea taster usually rolls his tongue inwards and sips tea while making a slurping sound, thus exposing all taste buds of the tongue to the tea. I tried doing the same thing, but ended up making a really weird sound and couldn’t tell one tea from another! Tea tasting is a very difficult job I must say and I can imagine the amount of patience and hard work that goes into it.
The processing of tea is another science altogether. There are two major ways of processing tea. First is CTC, or crush, tear and curl while the other method is the Orthodox method. CTC results in a granular tea particle, which goes into your cup of doodhwali chai, and tea bags while the orthodox method yields tea leaves, like the popular Goodricke Roasted Darjeeling tea. Another important point to note here is that tea is analysed upon three primary parameters – Appearance, Infusion and Color. Of course, there is taste and aroma but all of these factors combined set the stage for the ultimate tea test.
After the testing/tasting is done, each blend is labelled with the name of the garden it came from and thus is decided its price. Some teas, sell for hundreds of thousands of rupees via auctions while the rest go out for retail and slowly make their ways into our homes. There are so many other aspects of tea processing, from growth, to flush and dormancy etc as well.
We did taste a few teas and it was an enriching experience for me. Knowing how delicate and complicated this process is, I get this sense of gratification whenever I sip tea now!
About Goodricke, (from the company website)
“The Company was granted a certificate of entitlement to commence business under the provisions of the Act by the Registrar of Companies, on 27th June 1977.
All the 17 existing tea gardens of Goodricke Group Ltd. were owned by eight Sterling Tea Companies . They had established tea gardens progressively in late 1800s and were carrying on business in tea in India. The sterling companies together owned 17 tea estates in India. 12 estates are in the district of Jalpaiguri and 3 in Darjeeling in the State of West Bengal and 2 in Darrang district in the State of Assam.”