Ah… tea and wine. Two drinks that make you surprisingly jolly and one can get you into more trouble than the other. I am talking about tea of course 😉
Historically, both tea and wine have been used as a stimulant and intoxicant. The caffeine is tea, though mild, is still addictive. This is why the Mormons don’t drink either. After all there is always a temptation to sit God down in the back porch and say “Hang on, I’ll be right back after that cuppa”. I plead guilty of such transgressions.
Yet both tea and wine are indelibly woven into history and deeply embedded into the ritual, religion and customs of the world. And the similarities do not end there:
Tea & wine both capture a sense of place: ‘Terroir’ is a French word that means the combined effects of geography and climate on wine. In other words the soil, climate topography and seasons all play a role in determining the quality of grapes that go to make the wine. And every batch is different even though the wine may come from the same vineyard. Tea follows the same logic. The leading tea regions of India can be broadly compared to the French wine growing regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Languedoc. Also like wine, Indian teas are named after the place where they are grown– each tea carrying the distinct aroma of its region. Darjeeling, “the champagne” of teas” is pale in colour and has a natural delicate, muscatel-like flavour. Assam plays “burgundy” to Darjeeling’s “champagne”. The best Assam teas, particularly the 2nd flush teas, have a robust flavor and depth of color that is unmatched anywhere in the world.
Like wine, tea flavor involves both taste and aroma. Many teas and wines have their own intrinsic flavor with fruity, floral or woody notes. This should not be confused with herbal teas which have artificial or natural flavors added to a tea base. For example, the litchi flavour of the Gewurztraminer comes from the grapes grown in the Alsace region of northeast France. Assam Teas have a deep woody note to them. Woody teas are a great after-dinner drink, and aid in digestion.
Hand picking ensures premium quality: Good wine and tea are never made from mechanically harvested crop: they are very carefully hand-picked. Exclusive wines are made from hand-selected grapes just as GFOP (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) the top grade Orthodox Assam Tea is made from hand-plucking only the pubescent tips of a tea bush. The fresh picked harvest has to be processed immediately while the leaves are still fresh to ensure optimum quality. The same goes with wine.
Expertise and know-how are critical in tea and wine making. The decision of when exactly to finish the fermentation of rack a wine is as crucial as that of when to start or stop hand-firing a tea. That can only be learned by experience and determined by experts because wine and tea, are both living, artisanal product where top quality depends on instinct and knowhow.
Ceremonial & social uses: In ancient Greece and Rome the mild intoxication offered by wine was valued as a means of
entering the irrational realm of Greek divinities. Buddhist monks use tea to help enter a meditative state. Rikyu, an influential historical figure who studied tea coined a phrase that roughly translates to, ‘You can either sit on a cushion to gain enlightenment or you can make a bowl of tea.”
So here I am sitting on a cushion AND drinking tea– that should qualify me for double enlightenment, don’t you think? So whether it’s a sippa or a cuppa, share one with me, will you? And cheers to you, my dear friends!:)
Since the Book of Grapes (and DANG, it’s a good one!) has already been written by Johnny Come-First, Shona Patel decided to write a story set in a tea plantation in Assam. You can read more about Teatime for the Firefly HERE. Shona Patel is represented by April Eberhardt Literary