Lalit Great Eastern, Kolkata team is damn serious about their tea- origin and I am not boasting about it. This place, as the history says, was used to auction tea in the pre-independence british era and now its again getting into that feel. Luckily, I was invited there to cover their tea festival (or tea treasureas as they call it) and was bowled over.
Let me explain the situation. Generally, by tea, I used to mean a hot drink with some tea leaves thrown in+ lots of milk+ cardamom+ bay leaves+…….. (boiled for a long, long time)which used to taste like a hot tea-flavored-soup, but is vastly different from what is called a proper tea (forget about the first flush- second flush etc). And when such a person was invited, I was frankly amazed. But once in, I understood that amazement for me is yet to be started.
In the big hall, that I stood in, contained specialty tea manufacturers (like Glenburn estate), online tea sellers (Assam 1860), Tea machine OEMs, milk companies, chocolate and cookie baker- basically everybody there was breathing tea and there I was- this time amazed.
For a layman like me, I just roamed around the stalls, purchased a few packs of good quality and came out. Most probably, I was looking a little confused and a senior person from the Lalit team approached me. I met Mr. Rakesh mitra, the GM of the Lalit Great Eastern and moreover, a true tea connoisseur. And, thus, in the next 1 hour ot so, the mystery of a good tea was unfolded before me by the gentleman…..
For those, who’ve not been there, Lalit has got a beautiful naturally lit tea lounge. the ceiling is made out of glass and hence, in this season, one can actually sea raindrops pouring, without getting soaked. So, if you have not been there, trust me, you’ve missed something. And the tea menu was presented before me. Actually it is something to be seen- the menu itself. The tea names are given, but beside there was a small sample of tea leaves so that a true tea lover can identify them instantly. Actually, even the tea menu is done in two ways. One was based out of the tea varieties and the other one was on the tea gardens- splendid, I mus say- these guys take the tea thing seriously.
Naturally, I took the help of Mr. Mitra in selecting my choice and he ordered Darjeeling first Flush. I found out later, its made from the young tea leaves and thus had a fresh pungent smell. The tea is brewed on the table, based on individual preferences (2/3/4 min) and the help of a cute sand clock was taken. I was suggested to take it with honey (instead of sugar) and happily I obliged. The tea was different from what I am used to. A subtle, pungent aroma was there- smoothness was the key and I was bowled over.
The next option what I was offered was called Jasmine Tea. When the thing arrived, surprisingly found some flower was being brewed inside the teapot and I was served at 3 min. The flower was unwrapping itself with the help of the hot water and it was a spectacle to witness the same. Taste-wise, it was even smoother, pungent smell was replaced with a flowery smell and I liked it personally over the first flush. BTW, it was again served with honey.
Some cookies were served along with the tea (which I didn’t bother to take) and needless to say, the service was meticulous and top-notch. I was taking a leave after the nice session (being converted into a fine-tea-drinker), where Mr. Mitra probably sensed that I’ll need some more learning on tea and invited me for the tea tasting session to be help the next day.
So, the next day, again I was there in the early evening and the whole place was re-organised with small tea-tables containing 5 varieties of tea (leaves and in cups) with descriptions, milk and cookie on side and the session was being headed by Mr. Ravindra Suchanti (VC and MD, J thomas, Calcutta) along with other dignitaries.
“What the hell am I doing here ” was my first reaction. These guys know tea and I am but a mere amateur. But, probably, everybody needs a first-timer as a student, so, I was led to a seat for tasting.
The tasting session continued for next 2 hours and brilliantly taken over by Mr. Suchanti. We were told what is first flush, what is a CTC and loads of other stuff which would need probably another post to cover completely. The idea was to taste variety of tea and experience the difference of different varieties by using our own, untrained taste-bud. The whole session was brilliant to say the least.
I’ve visited various restaurants and F&B outlets, but this has been one of my most-cherished visits. Thanks Lalit team and especially Mr. Rakesh Mitra for the same.