Darjeeling native shares his passion for tea
"Tea is my favorite beverage — I drink 16 cups a day," beams Bishal Thapa at the Park City Library. "In America, I know you love coffee, but tea is my profession my passion."
Thapa is one month shy of receiving his master’s in the English language from North Bengal University, and for a few weeks, is visiting America. This is his first trip thanks to Librarian Teresa Furgason and Jim Powell, a Park City resident who has begun a cultural exchange with Nepalese artist Kaylan Rai after visiting Nepal a few years ago.
Thursday Thapa gave a talk about his passion, and the origin of his passion his home town, Darjeeling, in the North Indian foothills of the Himalayan mountains, the town which produces his favorite tea of the same name. In his talk, he explained the history, the process and the care behind Darjeeling tea.
He began with a presentation of photographs of the misty hillside forestry that makes up the perfect environment for growing tealeaves.
‘Darjeeling’ means "thunderbolt," he says.
"If Mr. Wordsworth was alive, he would have written a poem Darjeeling brings out the poet inside you," he says. "It’s a romantic place."
The seeds are originally Chinese, he explained, but China can’t quite get the quality of plant that Darjeeling can, since the region is so wet (it rains all but four months out of the year), and because many of the tea gardens sit on a slope, the soil naturally prevents itself from getting flooded, retaining the perfect balance of moisture.
Thapa is a descendent of one of the first Nepali planters who grew the tea plant in Darjeeling, and says that the tea shrub can grow to as much as 50 meters high.
The Darjeeling tea plant was first grown by a British expatriate by the name of Dr. J. Campbell in his garden in 1841. By 1856, the tea became a serious means of business for the region, Thapa says.
The word "tea," he explained, comes from the Chinese word, "tai" which means "peace." The Chinese discovered tea in the 6th century, he says.
"The Legend is that evil King Wantu started to drink the tea after he was deposed and he began contemplating his past mistakes," Thapa said.
He explained the Russians were the first to begin trading tea, before the British started importing the good in the mid 1600s, after a Portuguese queen, Catherine of Braganza, brought the practice of drinking tea to the country.
"The best way to drink tea is after it has been brewed in boiling water for five minutes without adding milk or sugar it kills the natural flavor," he claims. "Tea is not instant coffee The passionate people of Darjeeling choose a soft lit corner of a house with soft music and enjoy tea slowly."
Though today coffee continues to dominate breakfast tables in the United States, increasingly, the West appears to be coming around to appreciating the "peaceful" beverage.
According to MarketResearch.com, in 2001, coffee accounted for 62 percent of the overall coffee/tea dollar sales, while tea held an eight percent share. However, since 1998, tea gained about three share points versus coffee and tea sales became far more robust compared to coffee’s. The market for coffee and tea accounted for $12 billion sales in a year, according to the company partially due to the new health benefits and economic trends that have emerged in recent years.
Wasatch Bagel Café owner Mark Morgan can’t fit all of the teas he offers on his blackboard the list is too long. Coffee may still out-sell tea, but these days he counts 15 green teas alone among his selection.
"We’ve been here for eight years, and when I first opened up, I don’t think we had any teas," observed Park City’s Bad Ass Coffee, Co. owner Michel Boroff. "Now we’ve got about 20 different kinds black teas, green teas, caffeinated, non-caffinated."
Boroff estimates she has doubled her tea sales in the last two or three years.
The favorite? English Breakfast or Earl Gray. "And the young people like yerba mate I think it’s an herb leaf from South America," she said.
Jen Rattray, owner of FairWeather, a local independent health food store, says her teas outsell her fair-trade coffees, though she admits to being a coffee drinker herself.
She notes, however, that coffee has more than twice times as much caffeine: in a typical five-ounce brew of drip coffee, there are 135 milligrams of caffeine; in black tea, there are only about 60 to 80 milligrams.
Rattray explains that yerba mate, brewed from the yerba mate plant is a low-caffeine drink with a lot of benefits for focus and mental acuity without the jitters of regular tea.
Though she sells Yerba Mate, it’s the green tea that sells best, she says.
"We sell more tea than coffee and green tea by far outsells the other kinds, mainly, I think because of the health benefits," Rattray said. "More and more people seem to be hopping on the bandwagon."
Teas, and especially green teas, have antioxidants that help to eliminate the free radicals from oxidizing and causing disease, she explained.
Nelson Reese, who identifies himself as a "religious" Fair Weather shopper, says he only drinks tea, but he doesn’t imagine that he’s in the majority.
"My wife and I always drink tea," he says. "But it’s certainly not like Starbucks is hurting," he observed.
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