So, you can read your tea like music and know all the notes of the vintage Pu Erhs and the fragrant Oolongs. Then, why not travel to the mountains of the Yunnan province in China or estates in Sri Lanka to savour a hot cuppa right at the plantations?
A niche group of tea aficionados is now travelling the world for interesting and unusual tea experiences. This has prompted plantation owners and travel companies to come up with personalised tours for such enthusiasts.
While Makaibari and Glenburn estates in Darjeeling have been a haven for tea tourists for ages now, plantations in Assam, Munnar, Nilgiris, Wayanad and Kudremukh have recently joined the burgeoning list.
Internationally, people are not just travelling to visit the pristine sources of tea but to experience the rich ceremonies and culture surrounding the beverage. So, one can sample Ceylon Silver Tips and Cinnamon Smoked Ceylon Pekoe at estates located in the picturesque central Bogawantalawa valley in Sri Lanka where you will be greeted by Swiss-trained butlers.
There is also the China National Tea Museum in Longjing – from where you can go on to guided tea tours to Hangzhou conducted by Shanghai and Beyond.
Tea Tours That Take You Away From the City
Tea sommelier Anamika Singh, who offers single-source varieties of tea at Anandini Himalaya Tea Boutique in Shahpur Jat, Delhi, has been approached by quite a few tea travellers for words of advice.
People are now taking tea vacations to Sri Lanka and Darjeeling. Some people even go to China to go through the beautiful tea ceremony. But it’s still a very niche category as these tours can be quite expensive.Anamika Singh, tea sommelier
At her tea room – over dollops of conversation and cups of classics – you can glean tips from her. “How often can you go to cities like Chicago, New York or San Francisco?” she asks. “These tea tours take you away from the city and allow you to do something different.”
What Singh has also observed is a great number of people combining tea tours with other leisure activities during a holiday. For instance, she gets a lot of tourists at her family-owned tea plantation, Manjhee Valley Tea Estate, near Dharamsala, for a tour of the factory.
“A lot of people who come for an IPL match contact us that they want to visit the manufacturing facility. We take them around, but we don’t do stays,” says Singh. One of her suggestions is to try the Oolong tea in Taiwan, which she claims to be among the best teas she has ever tasted – or the pink noon chai in Kashmir that is flavoured with rock salt.
One can even visit the tea fairs at Dubai and Hong Kong for an immersive experience.
You Can Have an Unforgettable Tea Holiday
One such person who has combined holidays with unforgettable tea experiences is Arijit Ganguly. Owner of Farmout Cafe in Gurgaon, he has travelled to 20 states in India and 50 countries and most of the “damage” has been on food and beverages.
I lived in London for a while but the real charm of drinking tea was in small towns, where beautiful buildings having been converted into tea houses.Arijit Ganguly, owner of Farmout Cafe, Gurgaon
One of the most memorable ones was the Cornish cream tea that he had at Gracey’s tearoom in Cornwall, UK. Another time he had the gur gur chai in Ladakh, which is made from Yak butter, salt, milk and tea leaves. “It’s an acquired taste, but once you start having it, you actually like it! According to the local customs, it’s not good if you can’t finish your cup of tea,” he says.
Then there was the Yerba Mate, a small, greenish white plant typical to South America, that he had in Poland. “I haven’t been to South America but a good friend and tea expert made me try this in Poland. Some people claim this to be the most balanced stimulant in the world. She told me that it has the strength of coffee, health benefits of tea and euphoria of chocolate,” says Ganguly, who got hooked to Yerba Mate much faster than the gur gur tea.
Such is his love for tea that he has made it one of the star products at his cafe.
Tea Travel is now a Thing
It is for discerning travellers like Ganguly that travel operators like Thomas Cook have started tea tours in India and abroad.
Thomas Cook has introduced tea elements for destinations such as the famous tea ceremony in Japan, introduction to the famous Wulong tea in China and traditional herbal and plant infusions in Korea.
We are seeing a growing uptake of over 12 per cent. As a travel advisory, we have introduced our ‘Personalised Holiday’ segment where the focus is to serve the needs of the Indian traveller; a lot of travellers are also combining tea trails with eco-tourism and trekking tours.Jatinder Paul Singh, senior vice president and head (sales & distribution: leisure travel outbound), Thomas Cook
Be it tea-making classes, interaction with tea-estate workers, micro sampling and tea tasting, companies and plantations are going all out to create delightful experiences for tea enthusiasts.
(Avantika Bhuyan is a freelance journalist who loves to uncover the invisible India hiding in nooks and crannies across the country.)