Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: Darjeeling (Page 1 of 3)

Going to Gopaldhara by way of Boulder, Colorado

Gopaldhara is a tea estate in the Mirik Valley in the Darjeeling district of the Indian state West Bengal. Like many such tea estates in the region, it began its life in the late 19th century. Plotted and planted by a bunch o’ Brits.

Image owned by Gopaldhara.

It derives its name from the original owner of the land, prior to tea planting—someone named “Gopal”—and the existence of natural streams that wound along the landscape; colloquially known in the old Lepcha language as “dharas”. Hence the name, Gopaldhara.

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Darjeeling in Autumn

I chose a weird time to talk about autumn flush Darjeelings.

Photo by Rajiv Lochan.

For one thing, it hasn’t been a typical year for the region. (An understatement, true.) But before I get into that, I should probably explain what I mean by “Darjeeling autumn flush”. Here’s a bit of a primer.

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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.

northwest-tea-festival

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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