Tea Tales In Kurseong

Margarets Deck, located just 30km before Darjeeling town, has the advantage of a quaint hill-station, it has the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), and a view unlike any other.
Tea Tales In Kurseong

If you are cold, tea will warm you if you are too heated, it will cool you if you are depressed, it will cheer you if you are excited, it will calm you.&rdquo These words by William Ewart Gladstone, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, seemed to echo in the hills as I sat at Goodricke Teapot, Margaret&rsquos Deck in Kurseong, Darjeeling. Goodricke Group Limited&rsquos new tea lounge overlooks Margaret&rsquos Hope Tea Estate, the largest of the tea estates here. Twice on that day, I heard a whistle announcing the toy train, steaming away to Darjeeling town and back. The tracks were laid right outside, as if the lounge itself were a station.

Goodricke Teapot, Margaret's Deck welcomes you with its elegant logo, plants and decoration[/caption]

Just moments ago, I had turned an inconspicuous corner in the sleepy West Bengal hill station to be confronted by a strangely wonderful sight&mdashthe contemporary-looking lounge on my left appeared suspended in the air (a perspective illusion it is, in fact, held tightly by cantilever and stilts). The fa&ccedilade is cosy and welcoming, decorated with plants in log planters and a fountain made to resemble tea being poured into a cup.

Darjeeling tea is handpicked[/caption]

Goodricke is India&rsquos largest producer of Darjeeling tea and it isn&rsquot new to the concept of tea lounges, with lounges across Kolkata and Bhopal. But Margaret&rsquos Deck, located just 30km before Darjeeling town, will have the advantage of a quaint hill-station, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) and a view unlike any other when it opens in mid-January. Besides, what could be a better spot for a tea lounge than among the Champagne of Teas Tea leaves grown in Darjeeling produce a very mellow and aromatic cup&mdashfine in texture, delicious in taste and unique in flavour the British, who brought tea to India nearly two centuries ago, had struck gold, even if they didn&rsquot know it back then.

Even with its modern look, the lounge maintains an old-world charm&mdashit&rsquos made using dhuppi wood, which was used for building most British-era hill cottages. It offers a breathtaking 270° view of the gardens. The interior has an open kitchen at one end and elegant seating at the other.

The tea leaves being sorted[/caption]

I sat down for some tea tales with two of Goodricke&rsquos senior managers, Subroto Sen of Badamtam Tea Estate and Vikas Gajmer of Castleton Tea Garden. &ldquoWe start in March and harvest until winter,&rdquo said Subroto of the process. The tea-growing seasons are called flushes the tea produced during each of these is distinct in character. The first flush produces a light, bright-coloured tea, while the second produces a stronger brew. The autumnal and monsoon flushes produce their own specific flavours. Out here, the world of tea goes far beyond the CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) variety of tea leaves, otherwise known as desi chai, which we&rsquore so used to buying and consuming in the city. For instance, Castleton produces &lsquoCastleton Premium Muscatel&rsquo for only about a month a year, in very limited quantities. These packets sell for thousands, and can only be appreciated by very sensitive palates.

Margaret's Deck's retail store has a diverse catalogue[/caption]

Our conversation quickly drew parallels between wine and tea. &ldquoIt&rsquos pretty much the same. Only, we may not have to age our teas,&rdquo joked Subroto, adding that taste, texture, aroma and consistency are considered while assessing the quality of both beverages. &ldquoBut they do sometimes age their teas in China,&rdquo Vikas added. Unlike wine, the tea industry hasn&rsquot done much when it comes to marketing and tourism. Goodricke seems to be making headway here. What was once just a small retail kiosk here is now a lavish lounge. It&rsquos not just about tea though. &ldquoOur endeavour is to highlight the elements that make the district what it is,&rdquo said Vikram Singh Ghulia, Sr. General Manager. So, whether it&rsquos the toy train, the majestic misty views of plantations or Darjeeling tea&mdashthe lounge has it all.

Tea tasting is quite a ritual[/caption]

It&rsquos a start, but so much more needs to be done, according to Malcolm Perkins, chairman of Camellia PLC, Goodricke&rsquos parent company. &ldquoPeople need to be better educated about tea. The youth doesn&rsquot seem to be taking to non-CTC. Production costs are increasing, prices aren&rsquot,&rdquo he said. I can understand his concern&mdashjust sip some Darjeeling and you&rsquoll know what real tea tastes like. The estate has some more tricks up its sleeve&mdashplanting trees to attract avian wonders which would bring in birding enthusiasts, tea trails that would allow for plucking of tea leaves, tie-ups with the DHR to promote tea tourism, wooing cyclists and train enthusiasts, and so on.

One of Goodricke's tea gardens glistening under the evening sun[/caption]

After this fine experience, I proceeded to enjoy the rest of Darjeeling. Kurseong itself is a small town, but it&rsquos quite charming, with narrow-gauge train tracks snaking between shops. At the Bhangzang Salamander Lake, I rendezvoused with one of the young hibernating lizards. My next stop was a British cottage, located in the heart of Margaret&rsquos Hope. Here, I was witness to possibly the prettiest vista the town had to offer&mdashthe sky a gradient of red and the many tea gardens laid one after the other, surrounded by hills. As I savoured some Darjeeling white tea and a hilly sunset, it occurred to me that a lot of the Indian Himalaya I&rsquove visited seems to be suffering from a colonial hangover. Darjeeling is no different. But this is a good kind of colonial hangover.

The Information

Getting There
Bagdogra is the nearest airport (60km). A drive to the lounge takes about 2hrs. DHR&rsquos toy train connects Kurseong with New Jalpaiguri (near Siliguri) and takes just over 4hrs.

Where to Stay
We stayed at Kurseong Tourist Lodge -&nbspit&rsquos homely, quiet and convenient. Cochrane Place Hotel is another excellent option.

What to Eat & Sip
At Margaret&rsquos Deck, the menu is still tentative, but includes a range of teas&nbspincluding Castleton Muscatel, Barnsley Green Tea and Badamtam Earl Grey served with mini flan and cakes. Tea flavours range from flowers such as jasmine and chamomile to cold teas such as apple & cinnamon. As for the food, various kinds of breakfasts are available. Croissants, quiches, grilled fish, scones, brownies, cheesecakes and desserts such as soufflé, trifle and caramel custard are just some of the other options.

The museum preceding the lounge[/caption]

What to See & Do
Visit Goodricke Teapot, Margaret&rsquos Deck (Margaret&rsquos Hope Tea Centre, P.O. Tung, Kurseong, Darjeeling, West Bengal and spend the day enjoying its tea and view of the tea gardens.

The Bhangzang Salamander Lake must be visited.

Walk along Kurseong&rsquos streets there are some bakeries selling delicious cookies.

Visit tea estates such as Castleton or Margaret&rsquos Hope for tea-tasting sessions and tours explaining the entire process.

This article is from our Story Bank. It was published in 2017

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