Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest Tea


Today's post is on Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler. It is 291 pages long including notes and is published by Bloomsbury. The cover is a picture of the hillside where Darjeeling tea is grown with a cup of it at the top. The intended reader is someone interested in history, India, and tea. There is no sex, no language, and no violence in this book. The story is told from the third person without the author's voice at all. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the dust jacket- Darjeeling's tea bushes run across a mythical landscape steeped with the religious, the sacred, and the picturesque. Planted at high elevation in the heart of the Eastern Himalayas, in an area of northern India bound by Nepal to the west, Bhutan to the east, and Sikkim to the north, the linear rows of brilliant green, waist-high shrubs that coat the steep slopes and valleys around this Victorian "hill town" produce only a fraction of the world's tea, and less than one percent of India's total. Yet the tea from that limited crop, with its characteristic bright, amber-colored brew and muscatel flavors--delicate and flowery, hinting of apricots and peaches--is generally considered the best in the world.
This is the story of how Darjeeling tea began, was key to the largest tea industry on the globe under Imperial British rule, and came to produce the highest-quality tea leaves anywhere in the world. It is a story rich in history, intrigue and empire, full of adventurers and unlikely successes in culture, mythology and religions, ecology and terroir, all set with a backdrop of the looming Himalayas and drenching monsoons. The story is ripe with the imprint of the Raj as well as the contemporary clout of "voodoo farmers" getting world record prices for their fine teas--and all of it beginning with one of the most audacious acts of corporate smuggling in history.
But it is also the story of how the industry spiraled into decline by the end of the twentieth century, and how this edenic spot in the high Himalayas seethes with union unrest and a violent independence struggle. It is also a front-line fight against the devastating effects of climate change and decades of harming farming practices, a fight that is being fought in some tea gardens--and, astonishingly, won--using radical methods.
Jeff Koehler has written a fascinating chronicle of India and its most sought-after tea. Blending history, politics, and reportage together, along with a collection of recipes that tea-drinkers will love, Darjeeling is an indispensable volume for fans of micro-history and tea fanatics.

Review- At times a very interesting account of India and tea but at times it is very slow and a little boring. Maybe because I am really just interested in the history or social parts of the book but when he would go on about the weigh of tea and the prices for it, it was not easy to hold my interest. When Koehler was writing about the history of Darjeeling and how tea came to be grown in India that was very interesting. This book is about more than just tea in India; it is about how colonialism has shaped India. From the way that tea to grown to how it is drunk, the British are still affecting India. But it is also about how the Indians are retaking their history, their country, and its exports. It is interesting to see how tea is seen socially as women's work but that does come with some troubles.  The changes that India has seen over the course of its history is truly breath-taking and this book does cover some of that. But this is about how tea and India have worked together.

I give this book a Three out of Five stars. I get nothing for my review and I borrowed this book from my local library.