Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Darjeeling (Page 1 of 2)

A Wild Darjeeling

This is an awkward statement to make right now . . . but . . . I’ve been on a bit of a Darjeeling kick, lately.

Photo by Nathalia Leter. Used with permission.

Especially given recent (at the time of this writing) news reports. And I’m not going to delve into any of that. This is a tea blog; I tell tea stories. And this is—for once—a happy tea story about Darjeeling. A “wild” one.

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Tea and Bullshit with Rajah Banerjee

Two weeks ago, I attended the Northwest Tea Festival.

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For both days, even!

It was an epic time of tea drunkenness and cuppa camaraderie. But when the time came to actually write about the two-day tea-stravaganza . . . I had nothing to say. Sure, I drank a lot of tea, met new people, reunited with old friends and contacts, but there was no story there. I drank, I saw, and then I trained home. That was pretty much it. If you want full(er) accounts on the tea fest, I suggest visiting The Oolong Owl and Delights of the Heart. Their coverage was pretty comprehensive, and I probably couldn’t have said it better. (Or more concisely.)

The festive weekend, however, did serve one weird purpose. It was a springboard for a few stories that I need to tell. This is one of them:

The first day of the tea fest, I stopped by the Young Mountain Tea booth a couple of times. One, to talk to the owner, Raj Vable, again—since I hadn’t seen him in (what felt like) years; two, I wanted to meet his guest of honor. Rajah Banerjee, owner and manager of the Makaibari tea estate in Darjeeling.

Rajah Banerjee and Raj Vable

Rajah Banerjee and Raj Vable

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A Kanchan View Darjeeling Pairing

The Kanchan View tea estate in Darjeeling has a rough history.

kanchan-view-of-the-hills

Photo by Rajiv Lochan

The garden was first established in the 1880s, where it first went by the name “Rungneet”. At the peak of its hundred-plus-year production, the 250-acre garden accounted for at least 100,000 kilos of tea a year. Now? It only does about ten percent of that. The reasons for this are long, complicated, and varied.

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A Sidrapong Heritage Story

The Arya tea estate has a fascinating history, even among the many that dot the Darjeeling region, especially because of its original name – Sidrapong.

Arya, formerly Sidrapong

According to legend, the original site was home to Buddhist monks on an unknown pilgrimage in the mid-to-late 1700s. They were looking for a place to build a new monastery and somehow ended up in Darjeeling. The monks, then, planted a garden with various Chinese seeds and dubbed it “Sidrapong”. To date, I have yet to come up with an exact translation for this. And believe me, I looked. The nearest thing I could find, after consulting several sources, was a claim that it meant “house on fire” in the old Lepcha language.

Eventually, the garden was renamed “Arya” – a Sanskrit word meaning “noble” or “respected”. In 1885, it was transformed into a tea garden, presumably by the British. Over ten years later, the garden became home to a new tenant – a technological one.

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A Crappy Christmas Cat Poem with a Cuppa Tea

T’was the day before Christmas Eve,

And all was quite spiffy.

I stayed in my PJs all day –

In neither a hurry nor jiffy.

 

I babysat two cats,

Made sure they were fed.

Never overstayed my welcome,

For they both wished me dead.

 

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Getting Tea Drunk on Giddapahar

NaNoTeaMo, Day 21: “Getting Tea Drunk on Giddapahar”

The Giddapahar tea estate rests near the center of the Kurseong Valley. The name translates to “Eagle’s Cliff”. While still considered high altitude in most respects, it represents one of the lower altitude gardens in that region. One of the most unique aspects of the estate is its size. Compared to many other Darjeeling ops, it’s rather small – 110 hectares total, 90% of which are covered in tea plants. Most of the bushes they use are small leaf Chinese cultivars.

Giddapahar

Luckily, the garden had a website for me to look all this up. How many tea estates actually have a website? Not many, I’ve found – unless they’re huge. Granted, the site needs a lot of work. It was apparently made in 2013, but looks like it was rendered in 2003. Plus, there’s weird New Age music playing in the background. It’s eerily soothing. Those nitpicks aside, though, “A” for effort.

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Darjeeling Fit for an Emperor

NaNoTeaMo, Day 16: “Darjeeling Tea Fit for an Emperor”

The Singbulli tea estate has a very old history, like a lot of such Darjeeling gardens. It was established in 1924 by British planters, and then was taken over in 2003 by Jayshree Tea and Industries. The garden resides near the town of Mirik, and teas from there are certified organic.

The name “Singbulli” means “home of the birds”, but when I first heard the name several years ago, I immediately pictured this.

singing bull

But let’s stay focused here.

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What Makes a Moonlight Tea?

What makes a tea a “Moonlight” tea?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself several times over the last six years, and the one answer I’ve always returned to is, “I don’t care as long as it tastes good. “ But perhaps that was foolhardy. I originally assumed that when the name “Moonlight” was applied to a tea – particularly those from China – it was just for the namesake. Yunnan province’s Moonlight is called so because . . . well . . . that is the name. “Yue Guang Bai” translates to “Moonlight White”. Sure, it was also considered a style of white tea, but one that was only regionally specific. Because of this, I also thought that the same was true for Darjeeling.

I can name at least seven Darjeeling teas that have “moon” in their names. Glenburn Moonshine, Arya Moonbeam, Thurbo Moonlight, and – my favorite – Castleton Moonlight, to name just a few. Then a tea luminary I admired, Rajiv Lochan, blew my mind when he gave me this little tidbit of information. Moonlight wasn’t just a name for these Darjeeling teas; it was also a technique!

mind blown

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A Castleton Comparison

While this has easily been the worst summer of my life, there was an anniversary of sorts. One I had completely forgotten about until I received an e-mail from Vivek Lochan of Lochan Tea. It read: “In continuing with tradition, a sample of the 2015 Castelton Moonlight has been sent to you yesterday by courier.”

Whoah! I thought. Just a few days prior, I’d wondered how I was going to acquire some of that tea this year. For those that don’t know, Castleton Moonlight, second flush, is my absolute favorite tea. Of all time. I first fell in love with it in 2011. And I’ve made it a point to get a hold of it every year since. It’s an oolong from the Darjeeling tea estate dubbed Castleton. I did a full write-up on my history with that tea for the Lochans, which can be found HERE.

If I did get a hold of it, that would mark my fifth anniversary with said tea.

They were curious how this year’s stacked up against last year’s offering. And, truth be told, I was morbidly curious as well. Teas and tea types tend to growing season to growing season. Influences like weather, processing, and quality of the terroir all play a part, and all factors are never completely consistent year-to-year. From what I heard, Darjeeling second flush teas had a late start this year due to weather conditions.

I received the package a week later, and immediately tore into it. Keep in mind, this was at 6PM. Well beyond my usual “black tea” hour.

Moonlight loose

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The Dog Days of Summer, Sipping Darjeeling

Over the course of the Summer, I was occasionally called upon by my brother and his wife to watch this li’l guy.

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Why does he have a cone on? I’ll get to that…

Bro and sis-in-law were called away this time to take on the wilds of Canada with her family. I housesat and dog-sat in the interim. The first couple of days saw the dog and I getting used to each other, as is often the case. The galoot would test the boundaries (and my patience), and I would develop a routine around his quixotic, Bernardian behavior.

The wrinkle this time around was his butt. No really.

Before the bro-fam left for Canada, a flea had bitten him, and said hindquarters itched profusely. He would do what any dog did – bite the ever-loving hell out of it. Unfortunately, being a dog, he didn’t know when to stop. Hence…cone.

For the house/dog-sitting week, I only brought a few teas to subsist on. One of these was Norbu Tea’s Thurbo Oriental Moon, First Flush, 2014. I had plenty of it, and I figured it would do the trick. If it didn’t, I brought back-ups.

Short version: I never had to rely on the back-ups.

The leaves were like that of first flushes I’d seen before, but what surprised me more was how tippy the leafy bouquet was.

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Seriously, like, every other piece was a tip varying amounts of downy fuzz present. Usually, such a thing is only present on Darjeeling oolongs, but I wasn’t complaining. The dry aroma was nutty, slightly citrusy, and – of course – herbaceous by any good first flush standards.

Brewing was easy enough. 1 teaspoon, 6oz. steeper cup, hot water, three-minute steep…and done. Yet I still observed a bit of care when brewing – making sure I didn’t over-brew. Some Darjeelings didn’t take to that well.

The liquor brewed to a green tea-ish pale gold with an aroma of grapes and nuts.

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I swear, Darjeelings this year have had the grapiest aromas compared to prior ones. Not muscatel wine grapes, just straight grapes. This was one of the sweeter ones on fragrance alone. Taste-wise, there was a creamy introduction, followed by something akin to…blueberries(???)…and a finish akin to a dry Riesling. Of all the first flushes I’ve tried thus far this year, I think this was the best.

No wonder I lived on it.

Over the course of the week, I brewed it hot in the mornings before work and got the dog fed. After work, I brewed the same leaves iced prior to a dog walk.

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It held up just as sweetly in a pint glass on the rocks.

The owners came home to a happy dog-sitter and a slightly spoiled brat of a Saint Bernard.

I’m not sure why I always turn to Darjeeling every time I watch that dog. Heck, this is the second (or third?) blog I’ve written on the subject. But, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Or just put a cone on it.

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