Friday, November 25, 2011

Orange Picko

(My current couple days: Darjeeling->Kalimpong->New Jalpaiguri (now)->Kolkata (overnight train). I'll get back to the photos soon enough, but I haven't been able to connect my computer to some fast internet.)

Travel is full of so many absolutely perfect moments. Not in that they're super fun or exciting or feel-good, but in that they feel like scenes from a particularly well-directed movie.

So I'm in Darjeeling, and Darjeeling tea, right? so I'm going to visit a tea plantation. The closest one to town seems to be "Happy Valley Tea Plantation" so I follow the road until I think I find it, walk down an unofficial-looking path, and meet an unofficial-looking oldish Indian lady. She asks if I'm here to learn about tea. Well, sure, I guess. I walk with her and her young daughters to her house. I ask how old her daughters are, just to make conversation, and she says "14. Too young." which makes no sense because there are two of them, the older one is eight years old, tops, and too young for what? This gives you an idea of how much language barrier we're dealing with.

She sits me down in a room filled with antique furniture, stuffed animals, and my god wall to wall kitsch. I think she doesn't know Precious Moments dolls exist, because if she did, there'd be an infestation. She sets out some dry loose teas and gives her little sales pitch. This is not without some charm: lines like "What makes Happy Valley tea the best? It's the Happy." are delivered with a little gleam in her eye, like she really believes it. It's quite cute, really.

After a while, she goes into the specifics of Darjeeling tea, which is really what I'm there for. With some relish, she explains the beloved SFTGFOP1 acronym, starting with a singsong recitation: "Super fine tippy golden flowery orange pekoe, number 1!" and continuing: "S is for super, because it's picked in the first time of the year." False, this term is "first flush." "F is for flowering, because the tea flower is in there also." False, I think. Wait, where did "fine" go? "T for tippy!" pointing to the tip of the leaf. "G is for golden, because the tea is golden." Maybe. "F for flowering," (again) "and O for orange, because the tea is orange." False; check wikipedia if you're interested. "and P for picko. Because we're picking the leaves!" I don't even know what "pekoe" means, but it's not that.

At this point, three Argentinian backpackers walk in. She directs them to seats, motioning one to a chair that's already occupied by a giant pink teddy bear: "You sit there, with Pinky." They just want to drink a cup of famous Darjeeling tea. After finding out that she's charging fifty entire rupees ($1) for the tea and the lesson, and looking askance at me sipping said tea, they mumble among themselves, make some noise about how that's too expensive, and walk out.

There's an uncomfortable silence, because these cheap bastards just walked out on one of those experiences that you don't walk out on for a damn dollar. Sure, she was selling us something, but she invited us into her home, and you're going to get a good cup of tea, and I mean you got to sit with Pinky-- anyway, she and I sit looking not at each other, sort of avoiding eye contact, and then she turns to me with a sad smile and delivers the line that made my whole week:

"You know, they just don't know quality."


  1. That's a great story.
    Pity the fools who walked out.

  2. I request that helicopter cease and desist from using purloined lines from Mr. T.
    How do you remember these adventures in such detail? It's like you have a tape recorder. Anyway, this is splendid; I can picture the event as if I were there. You can write a book some day.
    Thanks for entertaining us. Now for some Darjeeling tea.

  3. hey, che gueveras, ¡páguensela ya y cállense! La calidad primo, ya que ya lo sepas, me podrás enseñar al volver a detroit. que yo vivo en una ciudad ubicado adentre de detroit, conocido como Hamtramck, y por adentro, ellos toman té té té- tal vez podrías enseñarles lo que habrás entendido...

  4. Bien, Miguel, no se' si conozco la calidad. En una tienda de te', un hombre me dio' cuatro copas de te' de varios campos cerca de Darjeeling. A mi', estuvieron todo el mismo.

    Pero en la mayori'a de India, porque toman te' con leche y mucha sucre, la calidad no importa!