Life On A Tea Estate In Darjeeling | MF Travels
“Are you a beach person or a hill person?” – is a hot question that I have been asked every time I get into a discussion revolving travel. Each time, I have answered, “Why not both?”. They both come with a charm of their own, their own different kinds of activities. They’re both wildly different experiences that are beautiful in their own way. However, entering the boiling, October heat of Mumbai, where we experience a perennial summer, my interests are currently leaning towards the hills where I can trade the greasy city life for one with pink cheeks and hot cups of chai.
The timing couldn’t be any more perfect. A couple of weeks ago, Yauatcha and Ballantine’s took me on a short trip to Darjeeling for a curated tea and whiskey experience, combining two things Indians love with a passion! For the three-day-getaway, we stayed at the Ging Tea House, a tea estate established back in the year 1860. On a crisp Tuesday morning, our group landed at Bagdogra airport, and from there we made our four-hour drive to the tea estate.
Our group consisted of other bloggers and representatives from Yauatcha and Ballantine’s, and if there was one thing that united us all, was our love for momos. It’s all we discussed, it’s all we planned to do: “Let’s eat momos for dinner!” or “Let’s eat momos when we hit the market!”. So even before we reached our destination, we made a pit-stop to eat momos for lunch.
Ging Tea House is located in the middle of a tea plantation, so we were surrounded by tea bushes and stunning views of the Kanchenjunga. Our rooms had lingering remnants of its British inhabitants in every nook and corner, be it in the tea cups and saucers, or the rustic fireplaces in every room.
On our first night, the Ballantine’s team conducted a whiskey tasting session in the estate’s parlour which had a little bar attached. Dominic Fitzgerald, Ballantine’s India’s Brand Ambassador, talked us through two whiskeys: Ballantine’s Finest, and Ballantine’s 12. Settled into the cozy parlour, we discussed the history of Ballantine’s whiskey, how to taste whiskey and some terminology that comes along with it. Like, the way wine has legs, whiskey has angel’s tears, because those are the drops of whiskey out of your reach. Very fitting, I must say. Our tasting was followed by a fun few rounds of cocktails with Ballantine’s whiskey concocted by ace bartender Uttam Singh.
Abhishek Bindal, Assistant Vice President Operations from KA Hospitality addressed an interesting take on tea and Yauatcha’s relationship with it. We all know them for their iconic dimsum, but as a tea and dimsum house, the relationship between tea and Chinese cuisine dates back to centuries. The significance of tea in Chinese food can be equaled to that of wine in the west. Tea is a part of a meal, rather than something extra on the side. It adds to your food, it becomes a part of it.
The next morning, we trekked through the tea gardens. The sights were unforgettable, to say the least. A lush landscape spread everywhere around us. Occasionally we would come across tea pickers with their baskets, working on the slopes – an image I remember from school text books when we learnt about the diversity of our nation. Our walk ended at the tea factory, where the tea leaves go through multiple processes before they get exported.
Around the world, Darjeeling Tea is renowned for its light and aromatic characters. I was able to experience, Ging Tea Estate’s 1st Flush, 2nd Flush and Autumn Flush Tea. Here, Mr. Singh, who overlooks the estate, guided us through the three different flushes produced. The first flush tea is tea from the very first tea leaves plucked in harvest season. Amongst the three that we tried, it was the lightest in colour, mildest in flavour, and packed an aromatic punch. The second flush was a lot stronger in colour and flavour, and was that Yauatcha picked to blend with the Ballantine’s Finest. The third, or the Autumn Flush, had the least aromatic quality of the lot, but held all the qualities that Darjeeling tea is renowned for.
Mr. Singh took us to his home for a cup of tea, where we discussed all things tea, from the best way to brew it, to whether milk and sugar should be added or not. This was probably the best cup of tea of our whole trip, because our conversations, coupled with the perfectly brewed first flush, really added to the experience.
Once back at the estate, we all tasted a few sips of the Ballantine’s 17, a whiskey that had been aged for 17 years before it reached our glasses. Our ingenious bartender Uttam had blended Ballantine’s Finest whiskey with the Darjeeling 2nd Flush from Ging Tea Estate overnight, to create a delicious blend which he used for all our cocktails on our final night. As an ode to our trip, he presented us with the Golden Ging, a cocktail made with the whiskey and tea concoction, lemon juice, passion fruit shrubs and ginger ale that will soon be available on the menu of all Yauatcha outlets across the country. It was a super fresh and light drink, the opposite of what one might expect from a whiskey based cocktail. Not only the tea cocktail, but the 2nd Flush Ging Tea itself is now available at all of Yauatcha outposts, too. A perfect companion to their iconic dimsum.
With that glorious end to our Darjeeling getaway, we spent long hours of the night chatting before we hit the hay. The next morning, as we left the estate and made our way back to Bagdogra airport, we all shared a sense of mixed emotions: blue, because we were leaving this gorgeous location, and a little elated, because we have the taste of the estate waiting for us at all Yauatcha restaurants. Although short, our two full days in Darjeeling were nothing short of mountain magic. Coming back to the sweltering heat of October wasn’t inviting in the least. What I would do to escape!