Best Cup of Tea
West Bengal, India
If Darjeeling is the champagne of teas, Makaibari is the Krug or Henri Giraud. At the 677-hectare Makaibari Tea Estate nestled in the eastern Himalayas, you not only taste the finest of its aromatic, amber brews, but experience tea as a way of life. Gurkha tea workers host visitors in chalets attached to their own homes, which dot the seven villages of the estate, situated roughly 1,400 m above sea level.
After a day's induction with tea-tasting sessions and a guided tour of the factory to see how luscious, freshly plucked leaves are processed into green, white, oolong and black teas visitors get some hands-on experience. Those who prefer to be in the tea gardens can choose between planting tea bushes, plucking tea ("two leaves and a bud" is what you need to break off each time) and tending the nursery. Those who enjoy more vigorous challenges can try milking cows or cleaning cattle sheds. And at the end of a hard day, you relax with a home-cooked meal made with locally grown organic produce, then drive home with a cuppa brewed from leaves you plucked the previous day.
There's no TV, so after a fireside chat with your hosts who will happily share folk tales, folk songs and plantation lore you'll probably turn in early, and that has an added bonus. If you rise when the first sun rays touch the valley, you stand a good chance of sighting exotic Himalayan birds like the pied hornbill and the sultan tit. If you're very lucky, you may even spot a leopard or two before hiking back to your hosts for that tantalizing first brew of the day. Not a tea lover? You will be at Makaibari.
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