Chaakh Laagdo Jeevan:
Imagine a tea lovers gathering 200 years ago, with all the participants sipping exotic teas but no Darjeelings - this thought alone explains the reason the world celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of Darjeeling Tea. It is not purely co-incidental that it happens to have begun at Steinthal in 1852. It is said that elderly, spiritually inclined workers often buried silver coins with slogans on them near the early plantations at Darjeeling, to bring good luck to their fruits of labor. One such coin was found during replanting efforts at Steinthal - “Chaakh Laagdo Jeevan 1852”, meaning the “Flavor of Life 1852”. Being found near the very first few tea bushes that were planted, this inscription shows that apparently there were indeed a few who knew that the “flavor of life” was to start from this very spot and these very bushes.
This marked the beginning of the famous ‘Darjeeling muscatel’ flavor that slowly but surely found a place in all the tea lovers’ homes across the globe, and also in the palaces of monarchs.
The history of Darjeeling tea has its own charm. From a place with a population of barely 100 in 1835, the queen of teas has come a long way. Darjeeling was leased by the East India Company from the King of Sikkim in 1835 for a mere Rs. 3000/per annum. Dr. Campbell, a civil surgeon, planted the first tea seeds in the area and the first commercial tea estates were developed in 1852. The pioneers started out by clearing jungles, terracing hillocks and erecting factories made of local materials, like bamboo planks, stones & thatch. Ever since, it has been an aggregation of changes all of which have contributed to the exotic flavor that we experience in the Darjeeling teacup.
It is momentous that this beverage has its roots in Steinthal. Named after a German priest who visited the garden often, Steinthal is located at the heart of Darjeeling. Situated at an altitude ranging from 3500 to 6500 ft., the plantation had 62 acres of land under tea cultivation and an annual production of 14 tons. In 1999, the land and plantations were increased by another 60 acres. With increased acreage and improved field practices, the annual output is expected to increase substantially.
Steinthal’s teas are popular in Germany, France, U.K., Japan & the U.S. The teas are sold in mail-order catalogues, boutique retail teashops and gourmet stores across the world. The teas are currently being widely offered by German retail chain Tee Gschewendner and L’Epicier. Steinthal’s other clientele includes Dammann (France); Tazo/Starbucks (US); Demmer (Austria & Italy); and Sinass (Germany).
The Raghunath Group, an exporter of quality teas, has owned Steinthal for over five decades. Based in Calcutta, India, Raghunath Exports sources teas from Darjeeling, Assam and the Nilgiris. A wide variety of seasonal quality teas, carefully selected by expert tasters, are made available throughout the year. The group also organizes production of specialty teas to meet customized requirements. Other than Steinthal, the group owns two tea gardens: Singtom in Darjeeling and Ramanugger in Assam. The teas of Singtom & Ramanugger have been certified organic by Skal of the Netherlands.
Of course, no package would be complete without the cause of celebration, the teas. Besides the Raghunath Group’s offering of a variety of regular Darjeelings from various gardens, Steinthal promises exotic silver buds, and white teas. Also packaged are signature teas as tea-coins, tea-sticks & tea-rings. Moreover, the art of making Clonals, Oolongs, Muscatels, and Greens is also being honed here.
A tribute to all connected to this mystical drink is made more complete by an offering of blends from the gardens located in each of the different regions of Darjeeling, which capture the specific flavors particular to each region. The brand names, which depict the attractions that are synonymous to Darjeeling, allow a tea lover to identify with this exotic place:
All are attempts to translate the experience to every one individually connected to Tee, Te, cha (no matter what one calls it - it is dear to all). Those of us in the tea world understand the finer pleasures of life that this exotic beverage bestows. Cheers to the cup of life or should we say - “flavor of life”?
Tea & Coffee - February/March, 2003
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