Darjeeling, meaning “Land of the Thunderbolt,” is located in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains in the Indian state of West Bengal. This area has produced delicious and complex teas since the early 1800’s when English entrepreneurs, seeking to break China’s monopoly on tea exports, smuggled tea seeds and tea plants out of China and into India. In the years since, Darjeeling tea has seen many improvements in production methods as well as labor conditions for tea pickers.
Today Darjeeling is home to some 80 unique tea gardens located between 2000 and 7000 feet above sea level. Tea plants grow slower at this elevation, producing sweeter, more tender leaves. The misty weather and cooler temperatures, along with Darjeeling’s well-draining, slightly acidic soil, results in lighter-bodied teas with fruity and/or floral notes.
Darjeeling tea is produced seasonally from spring until autumn. The First Flush tea is harvested in mid-March, often after the spring rains and warmer days bring about the new growth. Teas made from the first flush picking have a light color, and floral aroma. Second Flush is usually produced in June and yields a darker richer cup. The prized “muscatel grape” flavor attributed to many good Darjeelings is often found in these Second Flush teas. Due to the maturity of the leaves, Autumnal Darjeeling tea is usually the strongest with a nice red-amber color and spicier, bolder flavor. Depending on the tea garden and the weather, most tea gardens will produce “in between” flush teas as well. The winter is too cold in Darjeeling and so the plants will take this season off.
Darjeeling tea uses a manufacturing process called hard wither. This process takes fresh-picked leaves and withers them until their weight is reduced as much as 50%. This degree of water loss will leave some leaves too dry to oxidize, and so they will remain greenish throughout the following steps of production (ie. rolling, oxidation and drying). If you’ve ever wondered why Darjeeling teas look greener and taste lighter than most other black teas, this hard wither stage in processing is the explanation.
These days Darjeeling tea gardens use all manner of production techniques to create delightful and exciting greens, oolongs and white teas as well as the traditional blacks.
At Phoenix Tea we source directly from estate growers and producers in Darjeeling, and currently have several delicious offerings from the Glenburn Tea Estate as well as from Badamtam garden and the Doke tea gardens, sourced from Lochan Tea. I drink our Autumn Crescendo Darjeeling when I want a bold but smooth cup of tea. It has a delicate peachy aroma. The Doke Rolling Thunder is an oolong tea with lots of silvery buds. To me it tastes a bit like honey and wild flowers. Green tea drinkers should try our Darjeeling Green from Glenburn Estate. It is stronger than most Chinese green teas with a refreshing herbaceous flavor. And one of our customer favorites is Glenburn Estate Autumn Oolong.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about Darjeeling tea. Please comment if you any have questions about this fascinating region.
Photos of Darjeeling by Stephanie Wilson of Steph’s Cup of Tea.