Thursday, 28 January 2010

White gloves and port not necessary

Have already mentioned my move away from Earl Grey, but when I did decide to go Bergamot-less, I was only aware of the general names for black teas. The big ones are Assam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon. But those are merely places or regions where the tea is grown. When you get more specific, there’s an incomprehensible subdivision of the teas that come from these places.

So I decided to begin with Ceylon for a few reasons. I don’t want to only talk about the way tea tastes and the manners in which it is drunk. The history of tea is really interesting to me as well, and what I’ve discovered about Ceylon will take a while for me to describe. The most obvious thing is that this tea really is grown on the island of Sri Lanka, which was once called Ceylon.

How I’ll do this is start with what I’m drinking today and work my way through some other Ceylons as the week progresses. The first one up is Ceylon Nuwara, which is grown in high elevations in the mountains of Sri Lanka. The more I read about the way it is grown, the more I wanted to book a flight to go there and see these places with my own eyes. One of the estates is called Lover’s Leap for the cliffs near where the tea grows. If I believed everything I read, I’d blithely accept that limitless jilted or unrequited lovers have hurled themselves to their deaths from these very cliffs. When I picture myself looking out from the cliffs into the clouds below, I’m not particularly bothered by these stories.

As I’m reading this and that about Nuwara, I come upon an ad for a hotel/inn not far from Lover’s Leap. I think to myself, “Yes. Now we’re getting somewhere. This is more like it.” But as I read on, the description goes into great detail about the very Imperial manner in which one can enjoy staying there. Formal dress code, required pre-dinner drinks and a choreographed seating ordeal in which the men cannot enter the dining room until the ladies have all been sorted. White gloves, sorbet and port…this is exactly the kind of thing that makes it so difficult to reject the preconceptions about tea and the people who drink it. If I really needed to go through all of this to enjoy this stuff, I don’t think I would’ve ever gotten very far.

I’ve read this tea described as “mellow” and “bright-flavored”. Nothing against those descriptions. There are some much stronger teas that I’ll soon delve into, but this is a good start.

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