Learn the subtleties of Indian tea through a special programme at the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai.
Visitors to India likely know that the country produces some of the world’s highest quality teas, but guests at Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai have the privilege of actually tasting the finest blends available globally through a private lesson led by Andrew de Brito, the hotel’s food and beverage manager.
Though a handful of regions in India such as Assam and Nilgiris grow tea, Darjeeling, in the foothills of the Himalayas, is the most prestigious. More than 70% of the teas from here are exported around the world, and the rest are sold to wholesalers within India, but thanks to de Brito’s personal relationships with estate managers, Four Seasons has the rare ability to buy tea directly from the growers. When the first tea buds of the year sprout late February to mid-April—known as the coveted first flush—de Brito and three other employees take a three-day trip to Darjeeling and visit several estates to bring the crème de la crème of the season’s tea to the hotel.
De Brito educates guests about the teas with a private one-hour lesson. The INR 752 (€12) cost includes a full spread of finger foods.
First, de Brito gives guests a background on teas from Darjeeling and explains the differences between the three flushes (see below). The most surprising fact is that Darjeeling tea is not just one beverage, but several. The teas are named whichever one of the 87 estates they come from.
He then brews five different first-flush teas in glass pots so his students can see the variation in colours. Three minutes of brewing is optimal for the flavours of leaves to come out, and a timer is handy to make sure the time is exact.
When it’s time to taste, the teas are poured into five miniature porcelain cups. As guests take a small sip and swirl it around their mouths, de Brito walks them through picking up the various nuances such as citrus or flowery overtones. The soil, the direction the tea plant grows in and how much sun it gets all affect the flavour. Tasters spit out the tea in a small bowl and repeat the steps for each brew.
When the tasting is complete, de Brito pours his students a pot of their favourite flavour that they can enjoy with the hotel’s daily high-tea service of freshly made sandwiches, scones and pastries.
Tea from Darjeeling is divided into three levels of quality: first flush, second flush and third flush. Four Seasons serves only the first flush (as well as second flush Assam), but here are the differences in each category:
First flush: This tea comes from the first buds that sprout from tea plants at the end of February through the beginning of April and only grow for four to six weeks. The tea leaves are a golden colour and not heavy on caffeine. They have a very light, delicate taste with slight nutty undertones and an almost perfumed, floral aroma. Jungpana and Goomtee are the top estates for first-flush teas, and prices can reach INR 1,898 (€29) a pound.
Second flush: After a three-week hiatus, the tea plants start growing again in mid-May. Since the weather is warmer, the dark golden leaves result in stronger tasting drink that has twice as much caffeine as a first-flush tea. The flavour is heavier and more tannic. Arya is a popular estate for second-flush teas, and the prices hover around INR 1,440 (€22) a pound.
Third flush: These tea plants grow after the June monsoons. Since temperatures are around 90 degrees (F), they grow quickly and have a deep gold tinge with a very heavy tannic and rich taste. The leaves have the most caffeine content and are commonly used in tea bags. Every estate grows third-flush teas, which cost around INR 720 (€11) a pound.
To make reservations for a tea tasting ahead of your visit, please contact the Concierge at email@example.com.