Deixo-vos aqui uma pequena história do Chá Darjeeling – e qualquer apreciador de chá sabe que um bom Darjeeling (isto é, um first ou second flush, um Castleton, um Margaret´s Hope, um SFTGFOP) é dificilmente igualado; para mim, apenas os melhores Temi, muito mais raros, lhe fazem concorrência e, eventualmente, um esforçado Keemun. (Amanhã, no entanto, é provável que seja necessária alguma variedade mais forte do que um Darjeeling para me manter acordada.)
“Before the British arrived, the forests of the region, still preserved to a certain extent today in forest reserves, were home to a handful of Lepcha woodsmen. In 1828, a young Captain Lloyd, working for the British East India Company, was making his way to Sikkim through uncharted territory, to negotiate a land deal. He stumbled across an “old Goorka station called Dorjeling,” which was the name of a Buddhist monastery that once stood on the site. “Dorje” the ecclesiastical scepter that represents the thunderbolt of Sakra, god of rain and thunder and very appropriate to the region; and “-ling” simply means place. As a military man, Captain Lloyd immediately saw the strategic implications of this commanding ridge so close to three borders. To the west is the Singalila Range that separates Darjeeling from the Kingdom of Nepal. To the north is Sikkim, with Tibet just behind it. To the east is the Kingdom of Bhutan, just over the hill.
On his way home from Sikkim the following February, Lloyd camped in Darjeeling for six cold days. The large village had been deserted for twelve years, since the Gurkhas had retreated from decades of fighting in the area. Surrounded by dense forests of chestnut, maple, oak, and magnolia, the clearing ran to the end of the ridge, which fell steeply away into deep, sub-temperate, river valleys, including the Tista. In this scenic location, with the white Himalayas as a backdrop, he saw the possibility of building a “hill station,” or sanitarium. Such cool, fresh, clean air would offer a healthy break from the malarious daily struggle on the hot plains below.
When the Raja of Sikkim signed Darjeeling over to the British government in 1835. Five years later, the now legendary Dr.Campbell was made the first superintendent of the new District of Darjeeling. In his own back garden at 2130 meters, Campbell experimented with crops. He planted tea seeds and seedlings from Calcutta’s Botanical Gardens, distributed by the Governor General of India who was exploring the possibility of the introduction of tea culture into India. Some of this was China tea (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis), imported from the Bohea Hills of China after several dangerous adventures involving espionage and pirates. And some was Assam tea (Camellia sinensis var. assamica), developed by C.A. Bruce, who spent years combing the jungles of northeast India for indigenous wild plants to develop in the nurseries of Calcutta and Assam. He gradually traced tracts of wild tea as far as the borders of China. There was hot dispute as to which plant was more economically viable. In experimental plantations in Upper Assam, where the Assam Tea Company was formed, Chinese growers were teaching tea cultivation to native Assamese workers. In Darjeeling, Dr. Campbell’s plants of both China and Assam varieties displayed healthy leaves, blossoms, and seeds. It was obvious that growing conditions were ideal for tea, and Darjeeling rapidly became a major producer for the English market. The apparent disadvantages of steep slopes and a short growing season in fact produced teas that quickly acquired a reputation for the highest quality. “