The fine art of
IT is said a tea-taster must simultaneously use four of the recognised five human senses. The senses of smell, sight and touch are as essential as is the sense of taste. I was lucky to stumble on a tea-tasting session in progress purely by chance, and have come away suitably impressed and somewhat awed by the whole process, and the expertise required to tell the difference among so many different types by just a sip from a cup.
On a recent visit to Kolkata, I was invited to visit the newly decorated office of Contemporary Targett Co. , the third biggest tea auctioneers in India. Located in one of the old historical buildings at Dalhousie Square, Tobacco House at Old Courthouse Corner looks as old as it actually is from the outside, but the interiors of the office of CTC, as it is commonly referred to, were quite another matter. Designed by interior designer, Samir Sen, the inspired use of the primary colours of red, blue, yellow and green, beginning from the colourful drapes, to floor tiles and office doors, gave the whole place a bright and cheerful look. Being a really old building, it must have earlier been a rather gloomy office with the high ceilings traditionally associated with Kolkata’s colonial structures.
The colour scheme continued into the Tasting Room, an amazing place with rows and rows of shelves lining every wall. Here too, the inner walls of the shelves repeated the four primary colours, while resting on them were lidded containers of various types of tea, neatly numbered according to different categories. In addition, long tables ran the entire length of the room, on which rested rows of bowls of tea, small teapots, and trays of the dry leaf tea. Everything was ready and waiting for the tea-tasting process to begin.
Keenly interested, I took a quick look around while Subodh Paul, who had escorted me in, kindly explained what the tea-tasting process was expected to achieve. Pointing to various containers, he said that these contained the first muster samples received from their clients. The tea gardens are located in Assam, the Doars, Cachar and South India, and the different types of tea that were about to be brewed and tasted, included a number of varieties of CTC, Orthodox, Darjeeling and Green Tea.
Complete knowledge of the various processes to tea manufacture are must, as a tea-taster is often called upon to assist the producer in improving quality. Shortcomings in quality could seriously affect the outcome of the final production, and clients took to CTC to give them advice on quality and market projections.
By the end of the session, I could have
sworn that the two experts had made notes about at least 50 different
varieties of tea in a short span of 30 minutes. I marvelled at their
being able to tell the difference. After even two cups of tea, I can
seldom tell the difference. I would obviously never make a tea-taster,
and it was equally obvious to me that without experience and a long
association with tea, a tea-taster cannot possibly do justice to his