Friday, January 26, 2018

"Darjeeling: A History of the World's Greatest Tea" by Jeff Koehler

Darjeeling tea remains a favorite of many tea lovers, and I was eager to learn more about it by reading this month's selection in the Tea Lovers' Book Club, Darjeeling: A History of the World's Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler.

Summary: Koehler has written a wide-ranging history book about Darjeeling, approaching this tea from every angle imaginable, from its "romantic" (his word) beginning to today's very real challenges of continuing to grow Darjeeling tea in a world in which both the plants and the people who tend them are rapidly changing.

My thoughts: I'm glad I got this book because I can tell it's going to be a good resource (it has a nice index too), but I'm not sure it works as a "book club" selection—even for one consisting of tea enthusiasts. When the narrative began to get a bit dry with a lot of facts and figures, I found myself skipping ahead to some of the parts that mentioned people again. Always, it is the stories of the people of tea I like best. Some of the more interesting takeaways from the book: 

• Only 87 tea estates are in Darjeeling, about 48,000 acres, which is the size of Queen Elizabeth II's Balmoral Estate. When you look at it that way, it sure seems like a small amount of tea!

• The name Darjeeling itself  "comes from Dorji Ling, where the thunderbolt of the Hindu deity Lord Indra—King of the Heavens, God of War, God of Rain and Storms—fell."

• A Scottish civil servant in the Indian Medical Service, Dr. Archibald Campbell, was the first to grow tea in Darjeeling. (In 1841.)

• The pluckers, always women, take only the first two leaves and a bud, and it takes 10,000 (!) of these to make one pound of Darjeeling tea.

• Mark Twain once gave a lecture in Darjeeling and stayed in the Darjeeling Planters' Club.

The gist of it: I ended this book marveling that we ever came to know Darjeeling tea at all and wondering how much longer it will be around. The author says that the bushes are dying and being replaced at a rate of only 2 percent a year. He also says that Darjeeling tea faces challenges in the areas of labor, climate, and political instability.

For discussion:

I'd like to hear what others thought about the book. And did it make you want to run buy some Darjeeling tea before we run out of it? 

Our next book: I'm ready for some fiction again, so I'm suggesting something quite different for next time, a book that doesn't even come out till Jan. 30, but I'm eager to read it. It's The Taster by V. S. Alexander, about a young German woman whose job involved tasting Hitler's meals, and early reviews indicate there's some storyline involving a plot to poison his tea. 


  1. I didn't read this one (I didn't read much of anything this month) but it does sound like a good resource. And it it amazing that this tea is available at all.

  2. Well, that answered a few questions that had been niggling in my brain.

    Darjeeling is getting harder to find!

  3. Well I am about a third of the way through this book and learning alot. And yes, I am ready to order some tea from Darjeeling, but I do that every spring. It is a bit early yet. I am finding when someone posts something about Darjeeling teas now I can say oh I know a bit about that. Now I have some background information. I will continue to read. Oh and there are recipes and pictures too.

  4. I thought this book was really WONDERFUL! I enjoyed it so much on many levels. I love to read history books, and this has plenty of history that I was not familiar with. It also has very interesting information on nature--on the birds, animals, and insects that live in the area where Darjeeling tea is grown. I especially liked the photo of the insect that mimics a tea leaf! The books also has a lot on current problems in Darjeeling--labor problems, ecological problems, and such--that was all new to me. I didn't find the book dry at all. The author writes well and keeps things moving. I never expected the book to be as entertaining as it was. I checked it out from my public library, but now I want to buy a copy of my own. Darjeeling has always been a favorite tea of mine, and reading the book DID make me go and brew more than one cup of its namesake tea! I do thank you, Angela, for bringing this book to my attention--I would not have found it otherwise.
    --from Vernona in DC

  5. I bought this book and started it, but did not finish. Life, and other book review responsibilities got in the way. However, it's funny you posted this because I was just drinking Darjeeling tea yesterday (and again this morning) and thought, "I really need to finish that book!" I enjoyed what I did read and look forward to finishing. It definitely made me want to buy ALL THE DARJEELING! ;-)

  6. Angela, I borrowed the book from the library. I did not finish the book but gleaned enough information from it to inspire me to try the tea. Next visit to the loose tea store I will check it out. Thanks for hosting. Sylvia D.


Thanks so much for taking time to leave a comment! It makes my day to hear from readers!