Sunday, December 12, 2010

Under The Tea Leaves - Part Three of A Troligy

If you read Part One, you would have seen my challenge to the company who graciously provided tea for a tasting party I held on the weekend.
In fact, you might think I was rather rude!
However, Darjeeling Tea Express have seen my comments in the spirit they were intended, and responded admirably.
I asked them, very publicly, what they were doing, and they've posted a reply. Here's the first bit:
"I share your concerns over livelihood/conditions of tea workers and the benefit they receive in this industry... From our experience of being in trade, most tea producers do not provide much except the minimum stipulated by law and it includes food subsidy, free housing and a daily wage (negotiated in every 2-3 years). However, due to profit maximisation mentality, most tea producers do not share proportionate gains/profits with their tea workers. In rare cases, it is a sad to hear the story of their personal plight. Even certifications like Fair Trade do not mean much on the ground."
So, we're on the same page. These guys do think it's important. To state their case, again quoting them:
"Going forward, we intend to procure increasingly large part of our teas from such co-operatives and encourage more of the same. Our business model eliminates many players in the value chain by bringing teas direct from the gardens to consumers. Hence, we definitely aim to share our proceedings with institutions that support tea plantation labourers such as Hayden Hall as well. We cannot claim anything yet as we have just commenced operations, but allow us some time to scale up and implement this."
My opinion is that Darjeeling Tea Express need more than just time to do this, they need market clout. So, let's all help!
They have a nicely set-up site, good prices and plenty of information. That's enough of a reason to shop with them.
But if we can help them to help the tea worker in the field, undertaking back-breaking work for little reward, then I encourage every one of my readers to buy at least one batch of nicely-packed, fresh, exotic, invigorating, worker-friendly Darjeeling from them.
It's time for us all to put our money where our mouth is.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Twenty Moments of Truth - Part Two Of A Trilogy

For reasons outlined in Part One, this is a review and a report.
On an unseasonably rainy day in Adelaide, a bunch of people gathered at a suburban home. For Tea.
Not just any tea, but five excellent Darjeelings, that had arrived a few hours before, from India. There's a picture on twitpic if you're interested.
Of the assembled throng, 4 agreed to taste and review all five teas. Believe it or not, some people find the idea of five different teas in rapid succession too much to cope with.
So our reviewers: the inestimable and long-suffering Mrs Devotea, myself, and two anonymous ones, S1 and S2.
We started with the Kangra Oolong. Several guests got excited, thinking this was an Australian tea. Never Mind!
The notes on the site suggest that this is a Handrolled S.F.T.G.F.O.P.1 from the Dharamshala . A Darjeeling Oolong is still a a rare beast. It ceratinly had an unusual grass scent when dry.
The initial response to this might seem disappointing. Words like 'bland', and 'nothing' were being used to describe the tea, though Mrs Devotea, who normally dislikes all Oolongs, described it as "drinkable, but bland". I must admit I had to agree. However, S1 went crazy over it. She asked for more, and said the flavour of fruit came out the more you drank.
On our points system,added up at the end, this tea came in fourth place.
We then moved onto the green - specifically, a Gopaldhara DJ 156 F.T.G.F.O.P.1 second flush.
It's fair to say nobody liked this. Mrs Devotea is not big on greens - in fact everyone present was more of a black fan, but we gave it a go. S2 found it dry and sweet, but not exciting, and that was the best reaction.
I'm yet to find an Indian green I truly enjoy. Whilst black Indian teas such as Assams and Nilgiris remain firmly my favourites, I'm not convinced India can produce a green to rival some of the magnificent Chinese ones.
Incidentally, this tea came a distant last in our scoring system on the day. To be fair, any green would with this panel.
Excitement mounted as the first black was poured - it was a F.T.G.F.O.P.1 black version of the same second flush Gopaldhara that we'd tried in green.
The malty smell of the dry leaves came wafting out as the water was poured on them. Several reviewers started to salivate.
Let me pause to explain that I don't like 'cupping" - I think people should review tea as they would drink it. Of our reviewers S1 and myself drank everything straight, Mrs Devotea had sugar in everything and milk in the blacks, and S2 tried everything neat, then added sugar, and /or milk and tried again.
So, I poured the Gopaldhara to appreciative murmurs.
Mrs Devotea enthused: "Robust, a really good cup of tea." S1 agreed.
I found it tasted like it smelled, and was really enjoyable. It had a dried fruit and rosemary taste, which was unusual yet exotic. S2 believed it better with milk, which I found surprising. When the points were added up later, it came in at number two.
Much more exciting was the fourth tea, which would ultimately be judged the best of them. It's a Goomtee S.F.T.G.F.O.P.1 Special Autumn Flush Black, though the label suggested it be pre-autumnal.
Mrs Devotea hated the smell of the dry leaves and was reluctant to taste it, but awarded it her top tea of the day points. She described it as a "refined, classic Darejeeling. When you ask for a Darjeeling, this is what you should get." S1 said "I adore it, it's so full-flavoured". S2 described it as "quite like an organic special Ceylon BOP I'm fond of". I only made one note at the time ("strong up front, parsley and nuts") but obviously was concentrating more on drinking it, and taking this photo.
I should say that as I type this, I'm drinking my seventh or eighth cup of this since! It's wonderful!
The final tea was an autumn flush from Castleton , another Black F.T.G.F.O.P.1
This tea was a hit with all except S2, who thought it was too earthy. Personally I liked the soap and earthy tones, and to me, it was the best of the day. But it came third in our points system, as the others assembled preferred the previous two.
None of the teas would persuade me to change my favourite Darjeeling - Giddephar Musk - but all in all, great tea, well presented, and a great event on a rainy day!
It was an excellent day, and my thanks to Kaushal Dugar and Darjeeling Tea Express, and the judging/tasting panel.

Hands Across The Water - Part One of a Trilogy

Sometimes I'm direct and to the point. Sometimes I ramble.
I suspect, as I start to write this, that you might want to cancel the papers and phone work sick for a week or so. There's a lot to this.
In fact, I'm going to break it up into three parts, and I have no idea how part three might pan out.
As regular readers know, I worry a lot about the men, women and children who take part in my cup of tea. There's an appalling amount of exploitation within this industry.
And having been in the industry, I also know it can be quite lucrative at both a wholesale and retail level.
In my quest for excellence, I also worry about the care taken with that precious cargo.
A while back a friend (the wonderful @joiedetea, for you twitterites) introduced me to an Indian company that was exporting great Darjeeling teas.
So I started buying my teas from close to the source. The quality is amazing, though I don't seem to save much money over buying them locally.
Since this means a great deal more of the money from each transaction remains in India; I assume that this must filter down to the worker level. Perhaps I am being naive.
So, here's where we can get interesting.
Yesterday I held a launch party/tasting for a new direct on-line Indian tea company in my home town of Adelaide.
It's not uncommon for people to send me tea to review or taste. But on this occasion, I have actively promoted a specific company.
The whole thing came about when I wrote to them complimenting them on their website. I struck up a conversation with the delightful Kaushal, and it wasn't long before we agreed that he would send me some teas, I'd hold an event, and review the teas.
So, Part Two of this Trilogy, I will commence writing in a few moments, and that will be the review of the teas.
At the same time, I invite Darjeeling Tea Express to write to me and explain what steps they are taking to improve the lot of the impoverished Indian tea worker. I already know they share my concerns - I read their blog.
And that will help me put together Part Three.
Let's all see how that works out.