Step into the Darjeeling tea shops and you will be left completely amazed seeing the countless variety of teas. Yes! It is true. There are numerous sections and endless classification of tea in the Darjeeling tea shop shops. We are a regular tea connoisseurs, and being in the “champagne tea” city; it was must for us to purchase various types of tea. But after visiting the tea-shop, purchasing seemed like a task in itself. So, we thought to research first and purchase later. Here in this post we will be writing what we learnt on researching and you too should know before buying the Darjeeling tea.
All you need to know about Darjeeling Tea
The Darjeeling Tea known worldwide for its aroma and flavor is grown in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal at an altitude ranging from 750 to 2000 meters. It is considered as one of the finest teas in the world and is made from a small leaved plant known as Camellia Sinensis unlike the large leaved Assam Tea plant. Traditionally, Darjeeling Tea was only a black tea but now they have varieties of green, white, Oolong, Matcha and many more teas.
The tea grown in this zone has unique aroma and pleasant muscatel smell due to the rich fertile soil, apt climate, the incessant rainfall and the gradually sloping terrains. Moreover, the Himalayan tea is still manufactured by Orthodox manufacturing process i.e. Labor carries out the complete leaf plucking process. Interestingly, it is also the first Indian product to receive a GI (Geographical Indication) tag in 2003.
Fact: 1 kilogram of leaf processing is carried out from 20,000 shoots plucked from slopes having 40-60 degree inclination and each bush provides a total of 40 cups of tea per year. The labor forms the 60-70% of total incremental expense.
History of Darjeeling Tea
Most of the Darjeeling tea owe its origin back to Chinese tea seeds smuggled by Dr. Campbell from Kumaon region in 1800’s.
By 1850, the tea consumption in Britain was nearly 2 pounds per persons, England was continuously demanding its own brew and the major supplier of tea was only China. British people were paying high tea tax to China. To end this monopoly, Britishers started looking for the alternate land and then came the name of Darjeeling which was also the perfect retire hill station of the British officials and their families to escape the brutal heat of the plains. So, in 1850 the commercial tea plantation started in Darjeeling. And by 1866, Darjeeling area had 39 tea plantations of 1000 acres producing tea and this number tripled in the next ten years.
And today Darjeeling alone has almost 89 tea estates out of which Castleton, Goomtee, Puttabong, Margaret’s Hope, Thurbo, Makaibari, Giddapahar, Ambootia, Tindharia are the most famous ones.
Classification of Darjeeling Teas
Today, each estate in Darjeeling produces 7-8 varieties of tea and it is majorily classified according to the harvesting season- named as first Flush, second flush and so on. As the harvesting season progresses, first flush moves to second flush and so on.
First Flush i.e. Spring Flush (Late February to Mid April)
The leaves plucked during First Flush are the new, young & most tender part of the tea plant. They look extremely delicate, are light greenish in color, have floral scent, and are said to yield the purest and freshest cup of tea.
The tea prepared from the first flush leaves is light in color, have mild aroma and astringency.
Fact: The FIRST FLUSH Tea is the most premium and expensive tea as it is produced in less quantity and its demand over powers it supplies. Most of the Spring flush is exported.
Note: The first flush tea leaves should be brewed in slightly lesser temperature for the perfect aroma and flavor. The Tea connoisseurs suggest that to get optimum flavor of the leaves of this flush, brew them in water after removing it from boil. Don’t soak the tea leaves for over 2, 3 minutes.
Second Flush i.e. Summer Flush or Summer Tea (May – June)
The summer flush tea leaves are luscious, moist, juicy and larger than first flush. The leaves are characterized by purple bloom and shimmery shiny bud.
Tea prepared from the summer flush is more vivid, copper purplish in color and have a Muscatel flavor (which resembles a sweet fortified wine prepared from muscat grapes).
Fact: Most of the Summer flush too, is exported
Note: The best way to enjoy second flush tea is by brewing leaves for 5 to 6 minutes. These leaves give a strong taste, so add a small sugar cube or a few drop of honey to complement the bitterness.
Monsoon Flush / Breakfast Tea (July to September)
The Monsoon flush leaves contain lot of water, is less withered and more oxidized than the other flush teas. The tea produced from these leaves is dark and strong in appearance. The rainy flush teas are usually blended teas and are served with milk in the morning.
Fact: They are the cheapest of all types and is rarely exported.
Autumn Flush (October to November)
The last flush leaves are different in color and texture from others. The leaves are dark green to copper brownish color, with light aroma. The infused leaves give a copperish gold hue with a fresh fragrance, fruity flavor and a sparkling character.
Fact: Autumn harvest is shortest of all the harvest types, as temperature begins to drop and tea bushes go in to hibernation state. So, the Autumn flush is tough to find, is expensive and most of it is exported.
Note: The Autumn flush is consumed all by itself i.e. without milk, sweet or honey due to its exquisite goodness. The prepared liquid has no sharpness or astringency as it is in the first and second flush and is typically described as the Balanced tea.
Apart from the flush, comes the Qaulity Grade of the Tea leaves, segregated as:
- Whole Leaf
- Broken Leaf (B)
- Fanning’s (F)
- Dust (D)
There are over 30 grades in this with Whole leaf being the best and dust being the lowest. If you find SFTGFOP (Super fine tippy golden flowery orange pekoe) it is the highest grade, followed by FTGOP (Fine tippy golden flowery orange pekoe) and TGFOP (Tippy golden flowery orange pekoe) whereas if whole leaf is getting replaced by “B” it falls into Broken category. It is classified as FTBOP (Fine tippy broken orange pekoe) followed by TBOP (tippy broken orange pekoe) and BOP (broken orange pekoe). In fanning’s B is replaced by “F” and it is available as GFOP (Golden flowery orange fannings) and FOF (Flowery orange fannings).
Note: The shorter the grade, lower is the quality. Once the OP (Orange Pekoe) is missing in the abbreviation, tea will be just a ordinary tea.
Remember, each of these Darjeeling Flushes has its own characteristic and everyone will have it own view on taste. Taste Completely depends on one’s palate liking, if some will love light and bright (First & Second Flush), others will like full bodied and dark (Monsoon & Autumn Flush). So, we cannot generalize the classification as best or worst.
Apart from this, Darjeeling estate too produces – Green Tea, White Teas and Oolong Teas.
Darjeeling Green Tea:
Many of the tea estates in Darjeeling, have entered into the segment of producing green tea too. The Darjeeling green tea is not divided into flushes like the other Darjeeling teas but the taste definitely varies with the harvest season from March to November.
It is made from the handpicked small leaves (i.e. two leaves with a bud) that are further dried and withered to make the water evaporate. The leaves are further steamed to prevent oxidation as of black tea and they retain natural green color.
The Darjeeling green tea has a nutty muscatel flavor, flowery aroma and is light yellowish green in color separating it from other green teas.
Note: Avoid over steeping of green tea leaves for best aromatic nutty flavor
Darjeeling Oolong Tea
Every tea estate in Darjeeling doesn’t produce the Oolong tea. Only, the estates which lie above 3000 meter, having temperature between 5 -20 degree Celsius throughout the year, and more than 40% concentration of Old Chinese Bush (Chesima) produces oolong tea. The Oolong tea is made from finely plucked or withered two leaves and a bud.
The Oolong tea too is classified as First, Second Flush etc. The Darjeeling first flush oolong is lighter than the Darjeeling First flush black tea. Tea is lighter orange in color. The Darjeeling Second flush oolong is much thicker than first flush and produces as dark orange liquid with distinct muscatel flavor.
Fact: The Darjeeling Second flush is demanded worldwide and is quite expensive
Darjeeling White Tea
The Darjeeling white tea is grown in the tea estates which lie above 2000 meter and where temperature remain cold throughout the year. The white tea is made from the new unopen buds, or from the new leaves which are handpicked, rolled and then withered in the sun making it a rare tea.
On making it has a light aroma, brews to pale golden color and has bit of natural sweetness to it. It is recommended to use more quantity while making the white tea.
Fact: The Darjeeling White Tea is available in small quantities and is quite expensive like 50 gram costs around Rs. 2500- 3000.
Darjeeling Scented, Flavored, Blended Tea
This includes the various other teas like rose, hibiscus, litchee, Jasmine Earls Grey etc.
Where to buy Darjeeling Tea
Darjeeling, being a tea estate land has endless tea shops too. We were super confused from where to buy the premium one. Every second guy was referring to one or other shops. After inquiring from the hotel guy, we went to the Boutique Tea shop – Golden Tips. We tasted almost 10 -15 types there and brought which our taste buds liked. The shopped list includes:
- Lemon Grass
- Hibiscus Tea
- Rose Tea
- Masala Tea
- First Flush Darjeeling Tea
Out of these, Lemon grass and first flush turned out to be our favorite whereas Hibiscus is bit sour but has plenty of health benefits. Masala Tea / Chai we love with milk and rose is what we use not very often.
The other option is to purchase these Tea online from the golden tips, tea box, Darjeeling Tea Boutique etc.
Fact: The demand for Darjeeling tea is higher than its supply so many other teas from Assam, Nepal, Sri Lanka etc are sold fake as Darjeeling Tea. So, do buy from the reputed sources or check for the certifications.
Certifications of Darjeeling Tea
Before buying, make sure to check one of these certificates on the Darjeeling Teas- ETP (Ethical Tea Partnerships); UTZ certified, India Organic, Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade etc. These certify the purity and freshness of the beverage from the Himalayas.
Tea gardens in the estates of Darjeeling are like a mystic message on the earth canvas. Visit some of these estates to see the women working, smiling and plucking each leave; to feel the aroma and freshness of tea. Taste it wherever you get a chance and then buy the flavors to which your tongue says WOW!