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Dooars and the Aberforth of tea

Dooars, from dwar marking its entryway to Bhutan, lies east of the Teesta river and runs along a 350km stretch, much of which is covered in tea

On the Dooars tea trail through Alipurdar. (Anirban Dutta)

By Aravinda Anantharaman

LAST PUBLISHED 03.12.2023  |  02:00 PM IST

I am drinking a strong CTC from the Dooars, in north Bengal, this week, made by a small tea farmer, unbranded, but fresh from the factory. It brews a potent cup if I don’t watch how long it steeps. If I didn’t know it was from the Dooars, I would have assumed these dark granules were from Assam.

Also read | Capitalism, craft and India’s CTC tea

For those familiar with Harry Potter—I am thinking of the bit when Harry meets Elphias Doge at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Albus Dumbledore has died and Doge has written an obituary. Doge tells Harry he certainly knew Dumbledore the longest, pausing to add: “That is if you don’t count his brother, Aberforth. And somehow, people never do seem to count Aberforth."

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The Dooars remind me of Aberforth—somehow we never seem to include it enough when we speak of tea regions in India and the tea they produce. So close to Darjeeling and Assam, nearly as old, producing so much tea…surely it has a story that needs telling.

First the name. Dooars, from dwar marking its entryway to Bhutan, this region lies east of the Teesta river and runs along a 350km stretch, much of which (about 97,000 hectares) is covered in tea. Because of its elevation—sub-5,000ft—it has been planted with the Assamica tea cultivar. And when the CTC machinery came into play in the 1950s, the Dooars took up CTC tea production and now, nearly all tea made here is CTC. This means all the leaf goes into machines that crush, tear, wither, oxidise and curl it until it emerges as dark, even granules. Unfortunately, this also means Dooars tea is made and sold as a commodity, a bulk tea that is bought and blended with Assam tea—the Dooars add more body to the cup and also help keep prices down.

Also read | CTC’s ‘kadak’ command

Like Assam, the workers were also brought from the hinterland and have created a unique culture. Like Assam, change is under way here as large estates shrink in numbers, nudged aside with the proliferation of small holdings and stand-alone factories. The estates that are still standing, like Goodricke Groups Leesh River, or Rydak Syndicates’s Baradighi estate that offer tea tourism, carry an old legacy, some producing fine tea but a rare find in the market. The Dooars have just never been marketed or sold as a single-origin tea.

On my bucket list is the Dooars Tea Heritage Trail, which includes tea history, visits to some of the oldest plantations here, walks and factory tours. Anirban Dutta, who curates that walk ( 7,500, himalayanalchemytravel.in), recommends the Dooars as an antidote to the crowded upper north Bengal and also for its history, “not just tea but also a lot of tribal history".

TEA TAKES

Some of the storied estates from here retail direct from garden, making it possible to buy Dooars tea today. Try Jayshree Tea, Manjushree Tea Store, Gopaldhara India, and Teas from India’s Delightful Dooars collection.

Also read | Travel for tea

Tea Nanny is a fortnightly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. She posts @AravindaAnanth1 on Twitter.

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