Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tea Partiers

A picturesque setting.  Lush, green, orderly rows of plants.  Nature tamed, and made more beautiful, by the work of man (actually women, the men supervise while the women work).  A back-to-basics approach - picking by hand, fertilizing organically.

Wine country and tea country have many similarities.  Including drinking - a lot of drinking.  So with many fond memories of GT wine tastings behind us, how could we pass up the opportunity to partake in a tea tasting?  (Especially a tea tasting that only costs $2).

The tasting started in a typically Indian fashion. Tasting times were posted next to the Tata Tea Museum ticket window, and we were instructed to meet back there for the 11 am session.  When we arrived at 10:55 it was as if we were pulling our tasting request out of thin air and without any prior notice.  The ticket seller, panicking, yelled something incomprehensible, and ran off.  He came back with a harried young man, also panicked, who waved his hands around and shouted, "20 minute, 20 minute, need 20 minute!"  No problem, we said, and stood around for the next 20 minutes drinking complementary tea. Yes, free tea. Before the tea tasting; the irony!

Finally we were ushered over to the tasting room and instructed to leave our shoes at the door.  This is typical in Indian homes, to keep the floors free of the grossness that is an Indian street, but in this case the floors were covered with rubber mats that left our socks dirty.  We tied on our loaner Tea Museum aprons and took our places next to some Scandinavian girls as our tasting guide set up the room.

 Rows of white tea cups were placed on two long tables. Behind each tea cup was a small tin of tea and another cup used for steeping.  About ten tins contained high quality black tea, rolled and shredded; another ten, the lower quality powdered tea typically used by Indians to prepare their sweet milky chai; ten tins of different types of green tea; and a final ten of flavored teas.
The guide armed each of us with a spoon and a communal teacup of spoon-rinsing water and then set to preparing the tea for tasting.  Moving down the line, he measured some tea into the steeping cup, poured boiling water on top of it, and then after a few minutes poured it through a strainer into the tea cup.

We circled around the table, spoons in hand, tasting each tea.
Some thoughts on wine tasting and tea tasting: 

1.  There is a ritual that goes into both wine tasting and tea tasting.  In some ways the ritual is nice, but in other ways it just makes you feel stupid.  No, I cannot taste "the common theme of well-worn leather, unripe passionfruit and warm summer's days" in the wines with which you have presented me.  Nor can I describe the various black teas i am trying as anything other than "bitter" and "a little less bitter, I guess."  I especially cannot find flavors like "sweaty" or "whiskery" (thank goodness).

2.  Wines with a rich vanilla, butterscotchy flavor are delicious. But vanilla-flavored and butterscotch-flavored teas are gross.

3.  There is a finite amount of tea I can taste before I get bored.  That number is well below the number of teas available for sampling at the tea tasting we attended.  Conversely, the more wine one tastes, the less boring the wine tasting becomes.

4.  If you tell me one wine is more expensive than another, I will probably like it better, even if I am trying not to be influenced.  Same goes for tea.

5.  Tea tasting comes with no snacks.  I like a delicious cheese plate with my wine tasting!  Shouldn't I get a little sampler of crumpets with my tea?

All things considered (especially the price), the tea tasting was a fun experience.  Our tasting guide (an assistant/apprentice to the master taster) was knowledgeable and super friendly. And now that I've done it once, I'm not sure I need to do another tea tasting again.

All of our Munnar photos (including those of the tea tasting) can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder which tunes Russ chose for his tea tasting... I'm a Little Tea Cup, perhaps?


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