Over the past years, a number of samples of Darjeeling teas have arrived, been tried, and been written about (in articles posted on a blog now gone and replaced with this site). Your ever humble, knowledgeable, and totally honest little teapot (me) wanted to review some of those experiences with you along with some info on the various gardens. TOOOT! Continue reading Here at Last! Our Guide to the Darjeeling Tea Gardens
The revitalizing efforts of the Rohini Tea Estate by the Saria family have made their teas worth revisiting, so here goes! Continue reading Rohini Tea Estate Revisited!
by Little Yellow Teapot (a tea steeping marvel and occasional contributing author)
My humans and I decided to group together these three teas from the Arya Tea Estate. It’s one of the gardens in the Darjeeling area of West Bengal, India. The samples came to us courtesy of that fab tea guy Benoy Thapa of Thunderbolt Tea. These are in the high price range, but not outrageous. More like “I deserve a bit of self-indulgence” range. And they all got the highest praise from my humans. TOOOT! Continue reading 3 Great Teas from the Arya Tea Estate via Thunderbolt Tea
From a little acorn, figuratively speaking, my passion for Indian spiced chai grew. Unlike the mighty oak that grows slowly, my thirst for this tasty version of hot tea grew quickly. Read on to see the tale of that acorn, where it came from, and how it grew!
You go around spreading acorns everyday, usually without even realizing or intending it. Well, years ago in a galaxy far, far away…uh, I mean, in an Indian restaurant in Washington, DC, I had joined a group of friends for lunch. Little did I know that the acorn of my passion for spiced chai would be planted in my brain. But it was and here’s how:
We were ordering our drinks and I had requested a diet soda (back when such beverages were still on my list of allowed potables). One of the folks at the table suggested that I try the spiced chai instead (officially, it’s “masala chai”). He said that since I liked tea with milk and sweetener and spicy foods (my fondness for preparing my own homemade curry was by then legendary among them), that the spiced chai would probably suit me. My bravado was in high gear that day, so I said, “Sure!”
His observation turned out to be very astute. First, the chai was not a hot spicy and very mild overall. Second, milk turns out to be one of the best things to have with spicy foods, since the casein in milk has been shown to help neutralize the capsaicin in spicy foods (the ones where hot peppers were used). Of course, a mango lassi (see this great recipe) would also have suited the occasion, but the spiced chai was something I just had to try! And it certainly was tasty as well as helping to cool the burn from that spicy dish I’d ordered (not sure which it was, but was very likely a lamb curry, since that is my favorite).
So sorry that I can’t remember his name and that it was in the days before digital cameras, blogs like this, and social media sites. But this thank you goes out through the ether anyway, along with photos from a much more recent experience in 2010 at an Indian restaurant in North Carolina (none near our new home here in Oklahoma).
Who knows? Maybe I just planted an acorn in someone else’s mind!
© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text
When you can’t tell if a tea is “orthodox” or “CTC,” it’s a sign of a poorly processed tea. This one from Red Label is a prime example. Here is what we saw after the latest steeping:
There are teas that are considered “orthodox,” basically they are processed according to methods passed down through generations and involving a lot of hand labor. And then there are teas that are called “CTC,” which most tea vendors say means “Crush, Tear, Curl.” The leaves are put through machines and processed into a shape that is similar to the breakfast cereal called “Grape Nuts.” I tend to like both styles of teas and do not advocate one over the other. Each has its merits. However, seeing what looks like both styles mixed together just indicates that shortcuts were taken or the staff was not knowledgeable, or just plain sloppiness. Not that Red Label is a premium brand or anything, but still, a better standard than this is expected. Or am I being picky? No, maybe just spoiled. Whatever.
Typical of CTC style teas, this one from Red Label steeps up dark reddish brown. The flavor is rather astringent, so milk, sweetener, and a box of Walker’s shortbread were needed. Heh heh! (Okay, so I only ate one of the shortbread cookies with the tea.)
Personally, I don’t mind the mishmash of leaf shapes here – some CTC and some orthodox – but it does indicate room for improvement from the vendor. Either new equipment or better training for those operating it. Just my 2 cents’ worth.
© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text
by Little Yellow Teapot (a tea steeping marvel and occasional contributing author to this e-zine)
It’s always a sad time when we reach the last of our stock of certain teas – you know, the ones that are truly special. Well, the day has come when we reached the last of this Hattiali TGFOP 1 CL TPY 2nd Flush 2013 Assam tea [garden name on vendor label spelled differently from the garden site, which is the spelling I used here – just noting to save my readers some confusion]. And my humans and I (your fave little teapot) are indeed sad. What to do… TEA PARTY! Yes, tea parties are the answer to all our sad times. So, I invited that cutie teacup and the Moravian cookies from the local store to join in. It really cheered up our humans.
The Hattiali Tea Estate is a “South Bank” (of the Brahmaputra River that flows through there) tea estate that is part of the Dibrugarh district in the Assam state of northern India. “Hattiali” combines the Assamese words “hatti” and “alli,” which together mean “elephant road.” The garden has 405 hectares planted, of which 164 hectares are planted with clonal bushes. This tea is one of their tippy versions, know for their high quality, plenty of golden tips, and rigorously orthodox processing. They have been working to achieve a high standard and consistent quality that you humans here in the U.S. and in Europe have come to expect from a cuppa. This tea is even sold at Harrod’s in London, UK.
One thing we have come to expect from this vendor, also, is the sourcing of the best teas from the gardens in India. We’ve gotten to enjoy quite a few over the years, and hope to enjoy them for many years to come as the company grows. The rich malty flavor of this tea, which my humans chose to smooth with some milk and sweetener, is great for tea time or even with meals. We will miss it, but have others on hand that should be able to soothe our tea-loving appetites. TOOOT!
Disclaimer: all items were furnished by the vendor but all opinions expressed here are totally unbiased.
© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text
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|Four teas from Doke Tea Garden – truly a cut above!
Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved.
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For centuries, many of the teas from India that we Westerners in Europe and North America were used to drinking were of the CTC variety or that dust in teabags. Not anything to write home about, as the saying goes, and in dire need of flavor additives such as milk, sugar, spices, honey, lemon, various fruit flavors, and even flower petals and mint leaves. These days, though, there is a definite upward trend in the quality of teas we are seeing from India.
Some of this trend can be attributed to the tea gardens in the Darjeeling area of West Bengal, India, having achieved a geographical designation for their teas a few years ago. When customers are assured that they are getting true Darjeeling tea, not some inferior tea with a bit of Darjeeling leaves blended in, they are willing to pay more, as some of the record prices now being paid for these teas can attest.
But there are other indicators: more teas from other tea-growing areas of India, such as Assam, Nilgiri, etc., are being sold by tea garden and flush, not just as “black Indian tea” in bags. And the various styles are increasing. I, for one, hadn’t heard of green teas from Assam until quite recently. Now I see them all over. And white teas. Plus I am getting inquiries online from people in India wanting information on how to process oolongs.
What does all this mean? Personally, I see it as a very good sign. From huge plantations churning out nondescript black teas, growers are now beginning a transition to smaller gardens (or huge gardens with smaller sections) growing tea plants for use in making more premium teas. Tea processors from China and elsewhere are being sought out to help in this transition. Yes, indeed, things are looking up for India and for tea drinkers around the world.
A great illustration is a garden in northern India.
My experiences trying various samples of this garden’s teas have been real eye-openers. I mean, they could have taken the easy route – harvesting the leaves, processing them into those little CTC bits or that dust in a teabag. After all, people drink a lot of that stuff. The better tea brands could have been crowding out all those cheap bagged teas off of the grocery store shelves. So why not? Because there’s more at issue here. That trend upward, for one thing. A slow, tough slog with a substantial learning curve for folks who are used to how those other teas are processed. And hopefully a path that leads to better things for the owners of the tea gardens and for the people who work for them there.
While those bagged teas, those blends that are in the cups of people all across The United Kingdom, Ireland, and even here in Canada and the U.S., still have their place, people there are waking up to this new trend, waking to these more varied and higher quality teas. We’ve learned to stop accepting just “green tea” and “black tea” as our choices, and now we want that Spring Flush, etc., from a certain garden, or an oolong from Taiwan instead of Anxi, or a raw well-aged pu-erh instead of that artificially aged ripe/cooked pu-erh. In other words, we’re getting picky. And that’s a good thing. Having a vendor smother that inferior tea with flower petals and bits of dried fruit will no longer due, at least I hope it won’t. Getting a taste of the “good stuff” can be addictive and mean that you’ll never want to go back. These teas are certainly some of the ones that spoiled me!
It’s getting easier and easier for you to have an authentic cuppa Indian-style spiced tea at home. First, there was Tipu’s Chai, and now there is Jaipur Avenue Tea. Powder in a packet. Just open, dump in a cup, add hot water, stir, enjoy.
Of course, that’s not really authentic, but we’re talking authentic taste here, not authentic methodology. Personally, I’d much rather have the powder in a packet.
Owner Jillu Zaveri is another person who followed the lure of tea away from a previous career. She was a fabric designer for Oscar de la Rente. In 2010, she decided to try her hand at bringing a favorite beverage of her native India to the American market and so started Jaipur Avenue Tea. She recognized the need for a quick-to-fix yet authentic tasting tea. Since then the tea has garnered a bit of praise, including one of the top five chais in Seattle.
To promote the products, Zaveri hired one of the best PR firms around (Gruman & Nicoll) and had a great commercial photographer, Sean Hoyt, take photos (a picture is worth a thousand words — definitely). So many articles are already out there, in fact, that I was hard-pressed to tell you anything new.
The tea is sold in grocery stores in Seattle and Redmond, Washington, and on Amazon.com. Really? What can you say about a tea that’s sold on (chortle) Amazon.com? Cheap *bleeping* tea, right? Wrong. And if you do say that, I will personally come to your house, wag my finger in your face, and say “Not so!” (Well, not really, but I bet that made you scared for a moment.) It’s quality black tea from India and real ingredients, not artificial flavorings.
At this time, there are only a few flavors available:
Another Flash site – ugh! The company donates a percentage of the profits to charities. Nice but not a reason to buy their teas.
Jaipur is the name of a very modern city in India, with many thriving industries and an international airport. Like a lot of European cities, Jaipur has gates that remain as a sign of the city’s former days when being behind fortified walls was a necessity. Lots of modern architecture abounds, too, with angled planes made of concrete, steel girders, and large panes of glass reflecting the brilliant blue of the sky over the city. There is also a very active cultural section, with arts, crafts, and performance. Most importantly, it’s a city full of people who really know their chai!
My adventures with this tea will be chronicled, as always, on Little Yellow Teapot Tea Reviews, even though that little teapot will not be directly involved with the preparation. He will certainly supervise. Since we received two packets of each flavor, we hope to try one packet hot and the other cold with ice (yes, “ice” per the vendor’s instructions) and milk.
The Darjeeling region of India is known as “The Land of the Thunderbolt.” This tea company that proudly bears the name “Thunderbolt Tea” is totally dedicated to the tea growers of the region and to making sure that “imposter teas” don’t drag down the reputation of those genuine teas. Continue reading Thunderbolt Tea — Living Up to Its Name