What makes Darjeeling Tea so special?
Darjeeling tea is the tea grown in the Darjeeling region of West Bengal, India. It is famed worldwide for processing mainly black tea but also green, white, and oolong teas, which all come from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Sometimes recognized as the ‘champagne of teas’, the flowery sweet aroma and taste of Darjeeling tea are what make it so special.
How did it start?
Camellia Sinensis is indigenous to this region of India. The tea gained popularity during the British colonization of India. In 1841 Archibald Campbell, a civil surgeon in the Indian Medical Service, planted the first Sinensis in Darjeeling, with seed coming from China. The cooler climate of Darjeeling produced a variety of Sinensis that had smaller leaves and produced a delicate tea with complex floral and fruity flavors. Darjeeling tea then flourished following the Scottish botanist, Robert Fortune’s, arrival in China, to smuggle more of the seeds from the plant to India. The British East India Company sent Fortune so that the British could experiment with the seeds and establish the tea we know today.
What is it about Darjeeling?
The Darjeeling region has an average elevation of 6,710 feet above sea level, it is a very hilly environment. During the summer the area is affected by monsoons which on average generate 100 inches of rainfall, which is ideal for cultivating black tea.
How is it produced?
Darjeeling tea has five distinct harvests per year. Each season bringing different flavor and body to the tea. Darjeeling tea is one of the few teas with an origin certification and since 1999 only tea made at the 87 registered gardens in the district can be labeled ‘Darjeeling’. Every year 20 million pounds of tea is produced in the region.
The first tea harvest, referred to as ‘first flush’ is done in the middle of March. At this time the tea is often lighter in color and aroma than the other harvests.
Occasionally some leaves are also picked in May between the first and second flush.
The second flush is in June when the crop is bountiful. At this point in the process the tea is a deeper color and has a stronger flavor.
The tea is collected again in August, in the middle of the monsoon season. Which is why this harvest is called ‘monsoon tea’. At this time the tea is less withered than the other harvests which are why it is often used in spiced tea blends, such as masala chai.
The last harvest is in fall, which is why it is known as the autumnal flush. When steeped the tea is darker but it is less spicy than the other harvests.
How to prepare Darjeeling tea?
Most Darjeeling tea brands will specify exactly how to brew their tea. Especially since most Darjeeling tea is typically a black tea but there are green, white, and oolong varieties. With white and green Darjeeling blends usually being steeped for just two to three minutes.
For 8 ounces of water you are going to want 1 bag of tea or 1 tbsp of loose tea. The tea is best when the bubbles just start to form in the water, rather than boiling. For black tea, steep the tea for three to five minutes and add sweeteners or milk if you wish. But of course the tea is also delicious all on its own.