Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tea for....Fifty????

When I arrived in Kolkata, I was incredibly sick. Basically I stayed in bed, ate, back to bed. I regret that I didn't see more of the city. I did go on two more or less touristy outings with a guide my hosts found for me. The Maiden, that famous grazing land (Kolkata's Central Park except you can graze your livestock here) I only breezed by it in a taxi. The Victoria Museum - same.

I did see a few things. Some famous monuments, the famous university that Tagore, India's poet laureate began. Those I saw with a guide. But being with her was like spending the day with the Encyclopedia. If we passed a man, bathing on the street under a spigot and I commented, oh there's a man bathing, she told me the history of Kolkata's water supply. I remained silent and sullen in the backseat, my ears throbbing with pain.

It was an odd visit in a house with fourteen servants and a poor chihuahua with a broken leg. But on my last day my hosts invited me to a tea tasting. Full disclosure - they are tea merchants and growers and have a huge tea garden in the north. I felt kind of bad going to a tea tasting (I actually didn't know what it entailed) because of my illness, but I had already begun to suspect (correctly) that it was a sinus infection and hence not contagious. Still I was miserable.

I arrived at the tea tasting and found that, well, I was the only person tasting tea. This had all been arranged for me. I was both flabbergasted and chagrined. I tried hard not to cough and convince the tea tasting expert that I was all right.

He moved from cup after cup of tea. "Look at this. Do you see this? It is too pink. That is not good. This is rosy. Not good. This is beige. It looks like mud. Do you see the difference?"

Actually I saw no difference, but I wanted him to be happy.

"Now this one. This is golden."

I still couldn't tell the difference so he handed me a cup. "Now taste," he told me, tasting himself. He then made an odd sound and heaved the tea from his mouth into a spitoon. So this was kind of like wine tasting but for tea.

I tasted what he handed me. I wanted to be polite. "Oh, this is very good," I told him.

"No, no," he said. "This is the poor quality tea."

Oh, dear, I thought. I know nothing of this world.

So the afternoon went until we were done and headed over to the home of my host's parents. They lived in a huge house with many servants. I was led into a lovely sitting room where my gracious hosts offered me, of course, a delicious cup of tea.

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