As I have mentioned in many blog entries before, I am passionate about the Darjeeling tea region. It has a special place in my heart as this relatively ‘small’ tea region has a unique structure but most importantly produces amazing teas.
This region strives to produce high quality loose leaf teas to amaze the tea community. I am not quite sure if this comes from my cultural DNA, as Germans in general have a strong connection to this tea region and this type of tea. This blog entry by no means is meant as a complete and conclusive overview of the Darjeeling region but more of a reflection of personal experience I had with these wonderful teas.
The Darjeeling region, on the tip of India in the state of West Bengal, is a truly magical place. A majestic and mythical mountain, Kangchenjunga, looks after the region and some even say it contributes to the tea’s flavor thanks to cool air blowing in from the snow covered mountain.
The main type of tea produced in this region is black tea. Compared to the world’s tea production, only a tiny amount of tea is produced here, about 10,000 tons (about 7 percent of India’s tea output). There is an even smaller amount of white, green and oolong teas (and rumor has it yellow tea) is produced and I have been fortunate enough to taste them.
As with any other type of popular tea, much more tea is advertised as ‘Darjeeling tea’ then is actually produced, so finding a good tea vendor which sells authentic Darjeeling tea is crucial. I became a big fan of Teabox, an online retailer, which sources Darjeeling directly from the estates with some teas at your doorstop within weeks of being plucked. The only thing better then Darjeeling tea is freshly plucked Darjeeling tea. (*Please scroll to the end of this post for some special sales Teabox has going on until early June.)
To me personally, the Darjeeling tea region comes as close as it gets to a wine region. There are officially 87 Tea Estates in Darjeeling, full of history and traditions. While most teas in India such as in Assam is made from the Camilla sinensis variety ‘assamica’, the tea produced in the Darjeeling region is from the variety Camilla sinensis variety sinensis , similar to teas produced in China. How the plant got there is quite amazing, but this might be another blog entry all together.
Darjeeling teas are known as the champagne of teas as their flavor for certain flushes is described as muscatel flavor. I describe this flavor as a combination between tobacco and plum. They can be quite pricey as demand by far outstrips the amount produced per year. But as a fine bottle of wine, a good quality Darjeeling produced from a famous estate is worth every penny.
Darjeeling has different picking seasons, called flushes. One of the most celebrated events in the tea industry is the arrival of the first flush, or spring flush (early March – mid April), and it is announced with big fanfare among the tea retailers.
Every retailer tries to be the first to bring this new season into the market. To make it even more special, some retailers will bring you the first invoice, the first batch of this picking season. Normally the next flush is the summer flush (late May to June), although some estates will produce an ‘in between’ between spring and summer.
The next flush is not very well known or advertised and is the ‘Monsoon flush’ (September), picked during the rainy season. Some mark this flush as not of a high quality, but I had some great Monsoon flushes and they are reasonably priced.
The last flush of the season is the autumn flush (October to November) and brings out the most mature muscatel flavor in this type of tea. Then the tea plants go dormant, until February next year, but sometimes a rare winter flush is attempted by some estates.
To describe some estates and not to mention others would do this region injustice. I have my favorites (Castleton, Glendale, Margaret’s Hope, Jungpana …just to name a few) but I am open to all estates and I have found gems across the region.
There is a remarkable difference between the different flushes: a spring flush will taste fresh and vibrant, while the autumn flush will be more mature and bold. Some summer flushes will be filled with vibrant muscatel flavor.
There is a specific grading system in place for Darjeeling teas and I intend to write a separate blog on that. Just as a taste, a good grade is FTGFOP (Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe), or as in the running joke in the tea industry, Far Too Good For Ordinary People!
As tea tasting is the tea professional’s most valuable skill, I challenged myself last summer on my home trip in the US. Inspired by one of the tea books I read, I went to a ‘tea intensive’ to push my skill set on tasting.
I ordered the Teabox Darjeeling Tea Sampler, a set of 10g samples of teas from over 40 different estates and all types of flushes and tea types.
While most people are on the beach or relaxing, I was in the kitchen and tasting 6-8 different Darjeeling teas per day over a period of 3 weeks. I did not only taste the tea, but documented the appearance, aroma and flavor of the tea and the tea liquor in a Moleskine Tea Tasting Journal. It has been an extremely rewarding experience and I learned a lot about different estates and type of teas.
As part of my school work we had to undergo blind tastings. I constantly challenge myself to pinpoint a Darjeeling tea to a year, estate and flush, something similar to what a wine sommelier would do with wines from a different wine region.
I am pushing my tasting skill set to the limit and further as I want to elevate the title of tea sommelier to the highest level possible. But given the discussion on this title in the tea industry I sense that I should create a separate blog on this subject.
For the time being, I invite you to pick up an authentic Darjeeling tea and enjoy the amazing aroma. If you are interested to learn more or you want me to describe a certain estate please let me know and I am happy to provide you with more information.
As promised above, here are also some special discounts available at Teabox during the next few weeks.
|50% off White Tea Collection Pack||no code needed||5/9 – 5/22|
|30% off Tea Collection Packs||no code needed||5/1 – 5/30|
|$45 off Orders $150+||AFF45||5/15 – 5/21|
|$65 off Orders $200+||AFF65||5/22 – 5/28|
|25% off First Subscription Box||SUB25||5/1 – 6/4|
|15% off ALL Accessories||ACS15||5/1 – 6/4|