The 2014 Darjeeling black tea from the Gopaldhara Estate, the first harvest of “Spring Wonder,” gave off a raisiny bouquet and finished with a nutty flavor that had hints of olive oil and even hay.
Meeting in the Smith Union recently, Hunter White ’17 and Ellery Rourk ’17 — cofounders of the new Bowdoin Tea Club — shared their limited “first-flush” Darjeeling tea with me. They steeped the dried leaves in a traveling thermos and poured the yellow tea into tiny red tea cups. The two tea aficionados this spring launched the first-ever tea club at the College to share their passion with others. (They also sometimes hold joint events with the relatively new student Baking Club.
“On a daily basis, I drink at least 10 cups a day,” White said. When a remark was made about his probable immortality, he responded that he hoped this would pan out. Then he pointed out, “I never get sick.”
However, Rourk and White say they drink tea not because it is good for them — although that’s a nice benefit — but because it is tasty and relaxing. Also tea, even high-end tea, is relatively inexpensive compared with coffee, an important consideration when you’re a student.
They tea club founders hold their club meetings every Friday at 7 p.m. On a recent Friday, they served pu-erh tea from Yunnan Province, Dao Ren Peak green tea from Zhejiang Province, and Thai tea donated by Chareeda Rustana ’18, a club member. Pu-erh, for those who are not familiar with it, is aged, fermented tea. The sample White brought to share was picked in 2008 and comes from a “very tiny town tucked away in the rolling hills of southern Yunnan Province,” he wrote in an email prior to the gathering. “It is a traditional ripe pu-erh, so the upfront taste shouldn’t be too shocking. There are some very pleasant fruit and camphor notes that I think you will enjoy.”
White first became interested in tea when he was 9 years old, growing up in Rocky Hill, Conn., with a health-conscious family. Rourk discovered tea as a freshman in high school in New Preston, Conn. The two friends found out about each other’s shared interest after they both joined a Facebook page for incoming first-year students.
Next year White plans to study in Yunnan Province, China, where he will be pursuing environmental studies, but also checking out the local tea industry. He will also take a semester off to work and live in Taiwan, which he loves for its legendary oolong tea.
Rourk is a chemistry major. “If my career in chemistry doesn’t work out,” Rourk said, “I’ll open a tea bar.” Hunter added, “That is the dream.” He said he, too, may one day like to have an import/export business, with a tea bar on the side where he can satisfy his extravert’s delight in chatting with people.
Both Rourk and White say a perk from their tea habit is that it tends to lead to good conversations. For instance, at the weekly club meetings, while the discussion generally starts off focused on the tea, it always branches into other subjects. “Tea is a catalyst for conversation,” White said. Rourk observed, “Sharing from the same teapot is very nice.”