One of Sound and Music’s New Voices, Supriya Nagarajan, recently visited India to carry out a ‘tea residency’ for her ongoing project as part of the programme. In this blog post reflecting on her trip, Supriya talks though her time in Darjeeling, and the invaluable research opportunities this experience provided.
Camelia Sinensis – Teahouses
My journey into the tea plantations of Darjeeling began with a cup of tea in a teahouse in Finland. I had not realised the extent of my love for tea until I went across to work in Finland where the brew of choice is coffee. One of my colleagues at the Metropolia University, who incidentally is my tea buddy now, took me across to Théhuone (Finnish for tea house). Sitting with a pot of Kashmiri Chai, listening to Finnish love ballads I was struck by the universality of tea as a drink. Being a musician, I wanted to explore that thread of thought further and the Teahouses project was born.
Having done some desk-top research, in January this year I was ready to go and see the wonderful tea plantations up close. During a recent trip to India, I booked to go and meet the tea experts who would give me an overview of tea from sapling to teacup. Darjeeling is a hillside resort town in the East of India with winding roads, its own toy railway, and myriad tea plantations dotted on its slopes. The journey to Darjeeling was a steep drive across mountains on narrow winding roads that left me dizzy at times, but the views compensated. If the drive was scenic the view from Darjeeling, looking down at the tea plantations, was simply breath-taking. From quaint antique stores to shops selling tea, Darjeeling remains a sleepy hillside resort that at times seemed otherworldly.
I spent five days in Darjeeling meeting tea experts, tasters, plantation workers and plantation managers, all the while drinking myriad cups of tea. I now have a taste for the silver white tea leaves from the Gopaldhara estate – which appeals to the synaesthe in me by having the right colour, fragrance and taste. Tea tasting (like wine tasting) requires a special technique and although I was taught the correct way to drink tea, I must confess I have resorted to my bad old ways of slurping my tea from a mug on return to the UK.
The trip has been invaluable in setting me on the path of making music in response to tea. I am now more aware of what I need to look for and the tea ceremonies and practices that I need to research. There was also an undercurrent of how the benefits of tea are eluding the people who work in the plantations and I intend to research the tea routes from a century ago and any lasting impact on the tea communities in places like Darjeeling.
The tea residency was part of my New Voices programme with Sound and Music, and I may still have to call on the lovely team there to help me with the tea tasting as I commence the composition of my first music piece reflecting my experiences in Darjeeling.
Find out more about Sound and Music’s New Voices 2018 here.