Darjeeling Tea: Beloved, Prized, and at Risk

Darjeeling teas are among the world’s most prized—and pricy—teas. Imagine if they were in short supply.leaves_4148-web

Oh wait, they are! According to the secretary of the Calcutta Tea Traders Association:

There are no Darjeeling teas for auctions in October. This is an unprecedented situation. . . . there is no tea that can be put up [for] sale. This has never happened.

brew_4154-webWell, it’s happened now!

As I wrote earlier (see Will There Be Darjeeling Tea in the Future?), the tea gardens were shut down during a months-long strike in the region.

Every garden. Shut down.

This was a huge problem because:

  • Darjeeling tea can be produced only in Darjeeling—so now, here they are with no Darjeeling tea for the rest of 2017. Most of the year’s harvest was lost.
  • The tea gardens were the area’s largest employer so the costs to the employees have been immense. Many were forced to seek work elsewhere and they are not returning to the tea gardens.
  • With the tea plants overgrown and the gardens weedy (most of these gardens are organically grown, without pesticides), the forecast for 2018–2019 is pretty bleak.

wet-leaves_4156-webClearly things are never black-and-white, and very real issues precipitated the strike and brought complex problems into the open. But while tea workers did win a bonus, at least one of the foundational issues—that of a separate state for the Gurkhas living in Darjeeling—has not been resolved.

So the social/political/economic issues continue. For tea workers, those problems are compounded with the very serious disruption of the tea industry.

Yes, bringing it to a standstill forced people to confront issues. But the fallout will impact the tea industry—and the lives of the tea workers—for possibly years.

Besides the loss of this year’s tea:

  • The untended gardens will compromise future harvests because the plants are stressed and ill-prepared for the winter’s dormancy. This in turn will impair spring growth (that prized first flush, which, along with the second flush, underwrites the rest of the year).
  • With Darjeeling tea unavailable or too expensive, suppliers and consumers are already turning to other sources, such as tea from Nepal.
  • Tourists too are traveling elsewhere, delivering yet another blow to the region.

Come spring, will there be a first-flush Darjeeling?

It’s anyone’s guess.


Tea pictured is first-flush FTGFOP1 Steinthal, from one of Darjeeling’s oldest gardens. Many of the original plants still grow here, making them some 165 years old! Steinthal, along with other Darjeeling teas, is available at TeaHaus.

Source: “Four months post Gorkhaland agitation, Darjeeling’s tea gardens still reeling from trouble,” by I. Duttagupta, The Economic Times, October 17, 2017.

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Tea Leaves Blended with Coffee Beans. Really.

When this is placed before you, well, who needs anything else?dessert-webBut truly, a solid tea serves as a wonderful counterpoint to this dessert’s sweet richness. And here at Cupán Tae—located in Ireland’s captivating city of Galway—there are many fine choices.

While I went with the sturdy, no-nonsense Irish Breakfast, my far more adventurous daughter opted for Dreamy Creamy Galway Tea—and more than one bag of this decidedly dreamy creamy brew found its way home with us!tea-pkg-lt-webBlended specifically for Cupán Tae, Dreamy Creamy Galway Tea is definitely not your typical loose leaf tea blend!

Here, black tea leaves are sprinkled with jasmine blossoms—and whole roasted coffee beans.

brew_lt-webWhen brewed, the tea yields a dark copper cup and offers up a nutty, sweet aroma that is strong and warm.

So what do tea leaves and coffee beans together taste like?

Surprisingly perhaps, no one flavor dominates.

Rather, the elements balance well, with a pleasant nuttiness. The coffee beans seem to give a roasted note to the tea, while the jasmine results in a bit of sweetness.

I was not expecting to enjoy a beverage that combines tea leaves with coffee beans. All tea drinkers know that putting coffee into your travel mug, for example, means that you will never again be able to use that mug for tea! But this brew has a nice balance, with roasted, rather than coffee, notes, particularly when hot. I did find that as the tea cooled, I could taste a hint of coffee.

Intrigued? Give it a try! At their charming Galway location or the Cupán Tae website.

Cupan tae tea shop(And by the way, if you are baffled about their name spelled “Cupãn” on the storefront and “Cupán” on the tea packaging, so am I.)

The Cinnamon of Autumn Teas

Cinnamon may well be autumn’s quintessential spice. Where would pumpkin and apple pie be without it?! Or your favorite chai on these chilly evenings?cinnamon-3-web

Culinary Spice Extraordinaire

Although the Western world tends to reach for cinnamon as part of dessert, this versatile spice is capable of so much more.

Native to Asia, the bark of the Cinnamomum evergreen tree has been used for centuries in Asian and African cuisines.

Cinnamon is harvested during the rainy season when the bark is more pliable; the bark is then rolled into the familiar sticks. The word “cinnamon” derives from Greek kinnamōmon, which itself came from the Hebrew qinnāmōn.

From the Middle Bronze Age

Gløgg, glüwein, mulled wine anyone? Cinnamon is an essential ingredient, but these beverages are actually latecomers to the mulled wine world.

cinnamon-1-web

Much earlier, ancient Egyptians were imbibing spiced medicinal wine, and in 1700 BC, revelers in a Canaanite palace were quaffing red and white wine that contained honey, mint, juniper berries—and cinnamon.

To the Middle Ages

Cinnamon eventually reached Europe, signaling wealth and prestige during the Middle Ages. It was used in baked goods, beverages, and meat-based dishes—and the more extravagant the use, the higher your social status.

The 1475 wedding of George, Duke of Bavaria, and Jadwiga of Poland required a staggering

386 pounds of pepper, 286 pounds of ginger, 257 pounds of saffron, 205 pounds of cinnamon, pounds of cloves, and 85 pounds of nutmeg (Freedman 2003).

Incidentally, cinnamon may have masked the taste of meat spoiling, with meat being another of those upper-class perks.

To Today—A Spice for Health?

This aromatic spice has been used medicinally for millennia, and today we know that cinnamon indeed has many health benefits.

The caveat is that much more research needs to be done. Like tea, the properties of cinnamon depend upon many factors such as where and how it is grown, the concentration used in the study, and the cinnamon variety.

Cassia cinnamon is the variety most likely to be found in our kitchens because it is more flavorful and less expensive, but Ceylon cinnamon seems to offer more health benefits. In high doses, cassia cinnamon is actually toxic.

Even with all the ambiguity, research does suggest that cinnamon may improve the function of insulin.

Like tea, cinnamon has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. In fact, when heated, its antibacterial benefits evidently increase.

Recent studies suggest that cinnamon also helps protect against cognitive problems, including Alzheimer’s disease.

cinnamon-2-web

So what’s not to like about cinnamon? Especially when blended with tea! 


Sources:
Flavours and Fragrances of Plant Origin, FAO–Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy. 1995.
–Freedman, P. “Spices: how the search for flavors influenced our world,” YaleGlobal Online. 2003.
–LaMotte, S. “Cinnamon: Pantry staple—and medical powerhouse?” CNN. August 29, 2017.
–Seema, J. et al. “Effect of Cinnamomum zeylanicum extract on scopolamine-induced cognitive impairment and oxidative stress in rats,” Nutritional Neuroscience 18(5). 2015.
–”Spice pages,” Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages. http://gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com.
–Wilford, J. N. “Wine cellar, well aged, is revealed in Israel,” The New York Times. November 23, 2013.

Tea, Embedded in Irish Culture

After seeing tea, or the Camellia sinensis plant, in the Poison Garden at Blarney Castle (see previous post), I found it reassuringly in one of the lovely glasshouses in Dublin’s National Botanic Gardens,

National Botanic Gardens, Dublin

with a decidedly non-toxic description that touts its popularity and its role in hospitality.

Info on tea, National Botanic Gardens, Dublin
Although Camellia sinensis itself seems a pretty pedestrian plant,

tea plants

the beverage is entwined with Irish culture, and we found tea, milk, and sugar (okay, and instant coffee) in our hotel rooms (along with a reminder on the 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified teabag to boil only the amount of water needed):

at our Airbnb:

tea party vignette

on windows (teacup—”Here’s looking at brew”; teapot—”Nothing to tea here”):

in tea shops (pictured here is Cupãn Tae, which serves and sells its own blends of loose leaf tea):

Cupan tae tea shop

and on the airplane as part of Afternoon Tea:

Afternoon tea box

The Irish drink a lot of tea, coming in per capita second only to Turkey. Milk is generally added to the tea—a carryover tradition from the late 1700s–early 1800s when most people could afford only cheap tea so compensated by brewing the tea very strong and then adding fresh milk to make it palatable. Today, a small pitcher of milk will be found on many restaurant tables, although the tea is generally teabag and not loose leaf.

And in a lovely country that is often chilly, often rainy, often windy, a bracing hot cup of tea is perfect any time of day or night.irish-tea-montage-web

Tea in the Poison Garden

Tea. In the Poison Garden. In Ireland, land of tea drinkers.

Apparently recklessly risking their lives, in 2016 the Irish drank more tea per capita than any other country except Turkey!

Skull and crossbones on Camellia sinensis tea sign

So after being taken aback by the skull and crossbones, I did read the rest of the sign:

The ‘cup that cheers but not inebriates’ turns out to contain a highly addictive substance, caffeine, withdrawal of which results in a variety of unpleasant effects.

Contains caffeine and tannin. Caffeine is addictive; five cups a day are said to be sufficient to produce addiction. Withdrawal or reduced usage after excessive consumptions [sic] leads to dizziness, headaches, constipation, indigestion, palpitations and insomnia.

Camellia sinensis info sign

Well, okay, true enough.

But the sign continues:

The effects of caffeine addiction are, often, underestimated because it [sic] challenges the general view of what being an ‘addict’ means. But the physical affects [sic] of caffeine withdrawal are well documented and can be similar to withdrawal from tobacco or heroin.

Okay, aside from the grammar errors, I have issues with the information because, well—really?

Caffeine addiction can be equated to heroin addiction? I seriously think not.

I get that caffeine is addictive, and that it is a drug that happens to be legal. And I know that high levels of caffeine can be dangerous. But while a drink like Ammo apparently has around 171 mg of caffeine per ounce, tea has a paltry 3–6 mg of caffeine per ounce!

Maybe if you ate an entire tea plant? Daily?

tea plant

Okay, maybe I am overreacting. After all, the Poison Garden (which, granted, did contain some deadly plants) was located in Blarney Castle. Which was built in 1446.

But tea didn’t make it to Ireland until the 1800s.

Perhaps a tad bit of blarney here?

Click here to read my previous post, which introduced this poisonous plot. . . .

Next up: a look at what the rest of Ireland has to say about tea. . . .


Sources: (1) “Annual per capita tea consumption worldwide as of 2016, by leading countries (in pounds),” Statista; (2) “Ammo Energy Shot,” Caffeineinformer.

 

Ireland and Its (poisonous!?) Tea

Returning home from a great vacation really sorta sucks.

You can hold reality at bay only for so long before you have to face the dirty-clothes-filled suitcase, piles of junk mail, overgrown lawn, skunk-sprayed dog.

I wanna be back here, in Ireland,

—where light posts sprout shamrocks—

lightposts-web

—bespoke sweaters are all the rage—

tree-in-sweater-web

—mystery enchants—

sunset-web

—extreme beauty astounds—

outlook-web

—rugged stone walls confound—

walls-web

—and, of course, poisonous tea abounds—

poison-web

(Not to worry—all will be explained!)

Olive Tea Anyone?

It was just announced that olive tea will soon be available in the U.K. and Europe. Yep, leaves from the same tree that yields olives and olive oil.

Leaf Branches Plants Leaves Oliva Olive Tree Oval

About ten years ago, Rajasthan, located in northwestern India, began to grow olives, with  technological assistance from Israel.

The climate was suitable, and they devised machinery that processes the leaves in the crush-tear-curl method that is currently used for many black teas.

Billed as an alternate to green tea, olive tea, or tisane, contains antioxidants that may help prevent certain cancers and may help with cardiac disease and mental stress, according to the press release.

In fact, the article promises great things for this tisane:

The olive tea is called a modern day elixir because its health benefits are more than any other tea. Packed with antioxidants, this tea clears the skin of toxins and carcinogens. It energizes even when it has no caffeine. It reduces wrinkles, acne and gives the skin a young glow. It eats away cholesterol and reduces blood pressure. It improves immunity and hence prevents cold and flu.

Yeah, right. I think they are over-reaching a bit here.

Plus, nowhere in this article do they say what the tisane tastes like, and the Olitia Foods website simply says, “With the mild aroma of olive oil, the exotic original olive tea helps you relax.”

That may be true, but I’m still not convinced that the tea tastes good, which is my primary reason for drinking it.

Yet, other leaves, such as the premium Japanese Mulberry Leaves shown here, make superb tea, so maybe in another few months we will all be extolling olive tea!

mulberry tea-web


Source: Olitia Foods Pvt. Ltd. “World’s first processed olive tea from the farms of Rajasthan reaches Europe,” PR Newswire. September 8, 2017.