Darjeeling Tea, also known as the "Champagne of Teas," is a unique and highly sought-after tea that originates from the Darjeeling district in West Bengal, India. It is renowned for its distinct flavor, aroma, and delicate musky spiciness, which sets it apart from other tea varieties.
In this blog, we will dive into the history, cultivation, types & taste of this iconic tea variety and the best way to prepare Darjeeling tea.
History of Darjeeling Tea
The history of Darjeeling Tea dates back to the mid-19th century when British planters first began experimenting with growing tea in the Darjeeling district. In 1841, Dr. Archibald Campbell, a civil surgeon stationed in Darjeeling, brought over a few tea plants from China and planted them in his garden.
The plants thrived in the region's cool climate and fertile soil, and soon other planters followed suit. By 1856, Darjeeling had established its first commercial tea garden, Tukvar Tea Estate. The demand for Darjeeling Tea grew rapidly, and by the turn of the century, there were over 80 tea gardens in the region.
The early years of Darjeeling Tea were marked by a struggle for recognition and acceptance in the global tea market. In the 1860s, British tea merchants refused to accept Darjeeling Tea as a genuine tea, claiming that it was too light and lacked the body and strength of traditional black teas. However, the unique flavor and aroma of Darjeeling Tea soon won over tea connoisseurs, and it became known as the "Champagne of Teas" for its delicate and sophisticated taste.
Today, Darjeeling Tea is one of the most highly prized and expensive teas in the world, with a rich history and heritage that continues to captivate tea lovers worldwide.
Cultivation of Darjeeling Tea
Darjeeling Tea is grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, at elevations ranging from 3,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level. The region's cool climate and abundant rainfall provide ideal conditions for growing high-quality tea. The tea gardens in Darjeeling cover an area of approximately 19,000 hectares and produce around 10 million kg of tea annually.
The tea plantations in Darjeeling are located on steep slopes and terraces, which makes cultivation challenging and labor-intensive. The tea bushes are grown in rows, and the terrain is carefully contoured to prevent soil erosion and retain moisture. The leaves of the tea plant are hand-plucked, with only the top two leaves and a bud used to make the tea.
The tea bushes in Darjeeling are pruned regularly to maintain their shape and promote new growth. The pruning process also helps to regulate the yield and quality of the tea leaves. Darjeeling Tea is typically harvested twice a year, with the first and second flushes (or harvests) having distinct flavors and aromas. These flushes are followed by the monsoon and autumn harvests, each offering its own unique characteristics in terms of flavor and aroma.
Tasting Notes & Seasons of Darjeeling Tea
Darjeeling tea is known for its distinct flavors and the influence of different seasons on its taste. Here are the tasting notes and seasons associated with Darjeeling tea:
First Flush (Spring)
Tasting Notes: Delicate, light-bodied, floral, and fresh with hints of muscatel grape, citrus, and green vegetation.
Season: First Flush Darjeeling teas are harvested in early spring, typically from late March or early April.
Second Flush (Summer)
Tasting Notes: Richer and more full-bodied with muscatel grape flavors. Sweet, fruity, and sometimes hints of nuttiness and honey.
Season: Second Flush teas are plucked during late spring and early summer, generally in May or June.
Monsoon Flush (Rainy Season)
Tasting Notes: Darker, more robust, and earthy with a stronger flavor profile. Less floral and more mellow, often described as "malty."
Season: Monsoon Flush teas are harvested during the rainy season from July to September.
Tasting Notes: Mild, mellow, and well-rounded. Exhibits flavors of ripe fruits, honey, and a touch of earthiness.
Season: Autumn Flush teas are harvested from October to November.
It's worth noting that the specific flavor profiles can vary within each flush due to factors like elevation, tea estate, and processing techniques. Darjeeling tea is highly regarded for its unique characteristics and the influence of terroir, making it a delightful and sought-after beverage for tea enthusiasts worldwide.
What is the best way to prepare Darjeeling tea?
The best way to prepare Darjeeling tea depends on personal preference, as well as the specific type of tea and flush. However, there are a few general guidelines that can help you get the most out of your Darjeeling tea.
1. Use Fresh Water
Darjeeling tea is delicate, and the quality of the water can have a big impact on the flavor. Use filtered, pure water that isn't chlorinated or contains any other chemicals.
2. Use the Right Temperature
To prepare Darjeeling tea, it is important to use the right temperature of the water, which typically falls within the range of 90-95°C (194-203°F). This temperature range is suitable for brewing Darjeeling tea throughout the year, regardless of the season.
3. Use the Right Amount of Tea
Use about 1 teaspoon of loose tea per cup of water or one tea bag per cup.
4. Steep for the Right Amount of Time
Steep first flush tea for 2-3 minutes, second flush tea for 3-4 minutes, and third and fourth flush tea for 4-5 minutes. Over-steeping could end in an unpleasant and bitter taste.
5. Use a Strainer or Remove the Tea Bag
Once the tea has been steeped for the appropriate amount of time, remove the tea leaves or bag to prevent over-steeping.
6. Enjoy as Is or Add Milk And/or Sugar to Taste
Some people prefer to drink Darjeeling tea black, while others like to add a splash of milk or a bit of sugar. Experiment to find your preferred way of enjoying Darjeeling tea.
It's important to note that Darjeeling tea is a delicate and complex tea, so it's best to avoid adding too much milk or sugar, as they can overpower the subtle flavors of the tea. Enjoying Darjeeling tea on its own, or with a small amount of milk or sugar to taste, is the best way to fully appreciate its unique taste and aroma.
To summarize, Darjeeling tea is a beloved and unique tea with a rich history and delicate flavors. From its origins in the Darjeeling district of India, it has become one of the most sought-after teas in the world, offering a complex taste experience that is sure to satisfy any tea lover's palate.