The chai tutorial

When people here in the US think of chai, they think of this a.k.a. the masala chai.

Ek Cup Chai

But, chai can also be this.

Darjeeling Tea

For those scratching their heads, chai is any form of black tea – tea leaves, tea brewed without milk or sugar, tea with sugar and a dash of lemon juice, and of course, the traditional tea with milk and sugar, and the masala chai.

I took the above picture of Darjeeling tea when I was at Margaret’s Hope tea garden late this past November. (Yes, again!) The garden was done with its autumn harvesting and the factory was quiet, taking a break until the spring. We got to see a few factory workers still sorting, grading and packing tea.

The Factory

Sorting Tea

Labeling Tea Packages

Tea Tasting

Five fun facts on Darjeeling tea:

1. Yes, Darjeeling is a place, and Darjeeling tea gets its name from the place it is grown in. By that token, tea grown in any other place is NOT Darjeeling tea, whatever the package may say.  Sadly, we still don’t have the Geographical Indication protection under the TRIPS agreement of the WTO.   Correction: Darjeeling Tea was granted the Protected GI status in the EU.  

2. Tea is usually sold through auction houses rather than directly to retailers, and Darjeeling tea sells for about Euro 12.75/kg and can go up to Euro 30/kg (Roughly $8-18/pound). Expensive? Of course! But, that is because to make 100 gms. of finished tea, you need about 20,000 individually hand-picked leaves. And only certain kinds of leaves can be plucked – two leaves and a bud that make the shoot. The plucking of leaves is still done manually, because it requires some skill and expertise to know what leaves to pick. And to a certain extent, because labour is cheap in India!

3. Are you wondering that if it is indeed so expensive, how you can buy Darjeeling tea in stores for as cheap as any other tea?  That is because Darjeeling produces 10 million kilos of tea annually, but 40 million kilos are sold worldwide. Is that a fake you are buying then? If the tea is priced cheaply, then probably! Or you may be buying a blend.

4. Tea is harvested in four different seasons – spring, summer, monsoons and autumn. Of these, the summer harvest is the most sought after as it has the best flavour.

5. Tea bags use mostly tea dust – the worst grade of tea or the rejects of the manufacturing process. So do yourself a favour, and buy real tea leaf. Enjoy!