Darjeeling's tea bushes run across a mythical landscape steeped with the religious, the sacred, and the picturesque. Planted at high elevation in the heart of the Eastern Himalayas, in an area of Northern India bound by Nepal to the west, Bhutan to the east, and Sikkim to the north, the linear rows of brilliant green, waist-high shrubs that coat the steep slopes and valleys around this Victorian "hill town" produce only a fraction of the world's tea and less than 1 percent of India's total. Yet the tea from that limited crop, with its characteristic bright, amber-colored brew and muscatel flavors - delicate and flowery, hinting of apricots and peaches - is generally considered the best in the world.
This is the story of how Darjeeling tea began, was key to the largest tea industry on the globe under imperial British rule, and came to produce the highest-quality tea leaves anywhere in the world. It is a story rich in history, intrigue, and empire, full of adventurers and unlikely successes in culture, mythology and religions, ecology and terroir, all set with a backdrop of the looming Himalayas and drenching monsoons. The story is ripe with the imprint of the raj as well as the contemporary clout of "voodoo farmers" getting world-record prices for their fine teas - and all of it beginning with one of the most audacious acts of corporate smuggling in history. But it is also the story of how the industry spiraled into decline by the end of the 20th century and how this edenic spot in the high Himalayas seethes with union unrest and a violent independence struggle. It is also a front-line fight against the devastating effects of climate change and decades of harming farming practices, a fight that is being fought in some tea gardens - and, astonishingly, won - using radical methods.
Jeff Koehler has written a fascinating chronicle of India and its most sought-after tea.
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Certainly not the worst narrator I have come across on Audible - but he managed to mispronounce a lot of especially names of people and places. I'm personally also not a huge fan of narrators who switch from their 'normal' voice to a sing-song whenever South Asians are speaking. While generally read ok, he also introduces some pauses at wrong places - maybe he didn't prepare enough before the recording, but there are definitely sentences that would have benefited from a re-take.
The story was very enjoyable and interesting, and I don't regret getting it, despite the not so perfect narrator.
- Louise Linderoth