Over the last few weeks we have been taking an in-depth look into Black teas, their history, sources and types. Last week we looked into single estate teas and this week we are expanding on that topic by exploring the topic of Darjeeling teas. The teas from this famous region are varied and complex, including the famous First Flush Darjeeling and many regional characteristics that make this tea type highly sought after.
Darjeeling teas come from only the Darjeeling municipality in West Bengal, India. This mountainous region is part of the Lesser Himalayas and comprises a surprisingly small area. Because of the requirement that Darjeeling comes from only this area, there is only so much tea that can be grown in this space and that means that prices can fluctuate quite a lot, especially if there is a failed harvest in part of the region, limiting the overall availability of Darjeeling tea.
Growers in Darjeeling have specialised in cultivating new hybrids of the Cameila plant to particularly feature the most coveted characteristics of Darjeeling: namely its herbaceous and smooth nature. Producers have also developed new processing techniques that sometime differentiate from the traditional black tea processing methods and can be closer to the methods used for green and oolong teas - particularly in the treatment of first flush varieties. This has resulted in quite a varied aesthetic, ranging from "standard", tightly-rolled black leaves to more open, wide leaves; but all displaying the desired Darjeeling characteristics.
Darjeeling is also well known for having three different growing seasons per year, each resulting in very idiosyncratic tea types depending on the time of year that the leaves were grown and harvested. The three types are: First Flush, Second Flush and Autumnal.
First Flush Darjeeling is the first Darjeeling of the year and is one of the most expensive and sought after teas available. During the first 2-3 months of the year, monsoons bring heavy rainfall to the Darjeeling region resulting in an early growth of sweet, smooth, tippy leaves.
These young leaves are plucked by hand immediately following the rainfall and processed and exported quickly. First Flush Darjeeling teas are sweet and herbaceous with a pure "tea" flavour reminiscent of unprocessed white teas to varying degrees, producing a delicate and delicious cup with a heady pure tea aroma best enjoyed whilst still fresh between March and September of the year of harvest.
Often referred to as the "Champagne of teas", some consider First Flush to be the very finest achievement in the cultivation and processing of black teas.
Second Flush Darjeeling is by far the most prevalent of the three types and has the longest season of the year. After the first flush season ends, new rains bring new leaves to the tea plants and this results in the "second flush" of growth. Second flush leaves are more characteristically "black" teas than First Flush and tend to be produced using more traditional processing methods. Second flush teas have a deeper, more oxidised flavour whilst still retaining herbaceous and smooth qualities. Second flush teas are widespread and can range in quality from single-estate, super-premium special, golden tippy types often enjoyed as an afternoon tea to OP blending quality teas which retain Darjeeling black flavour but the flavour complexities are dulled.
Autumnal Darjeelings are the latest season Darjeelings produced throughout the year and are often processed to develop distinct toasted or malty notes. Autumnal varieties are less widespread and well-known, but benefit from a rich and complex flavour which is very popular with the well-educated tea drinker!
Read Behind the Blend next week for more information on Assam as we explore its fascinating history, cultivation and uses which make it interesting and popular.
Darejeeling teas can only come from the Himalayan Darjeeling province in the far north of India. Teas grown outside this region may well share characteristics with Darjeeling but cannot be named so.
Darjeeling has been cultivated in this region since the 19th century when the British established an outpost in the area. Once settled, plantations were settled and cultivation spread.
Darjeeling tends to be grown as Camelia Sinensis plants instead of Camelia Assamica which is more prevalently grown in India. This is key to developing the fresh, herbaceous nature of Darjeeling
Darjeeling is most commonly known for black tea, but is diversifying into green, white and oolong teas as these are particularly suited to the area and plant type.
First Flush Darjeeling is picked in early spring after the first rains of the year and is primarily formed of young, tippy leaves. Whilst First Flush has most commonly been processed as a black tea, producers are diversifying to reduce oxidisation and encourage the distinctive plant flavours and aromas.
Second flush is the most common variety of black Darjeeling and is the longest growing and harvesting season of the year. This is the variety mostly commonly used for afternoon teas and blends and in tea bags. Usually subject to more traditional black tea processing methods; a deeper more oxidised character is achieved with is both familiar and popular.
Autumnal Darjeeling is lesser known, but is growing in popularity. Leaves are picked later in the year and with special processing methods which develop a toasted, malty profile during oxidisation which produces a distinctly complex cup.
Darjeeling should be vibrant, fresh, herbaceous and smooth.
Most often found as black teas, green, oolong and white processing methods are becoming more prevalent and these are specifically designed to exemplify the fresh qualities whilst moving away from heavy oxidisation.
For single estate teas, one would expect to find a lot of tippy, golden buds which can add an almost citrus finish to the tea. Less tippy varieties are often more suited to blending, particularly of the popular and famous "afternoon" blends.
In general, black Darjeelings are expected to be full-bodied, complex and aromatic; include whole, unbroken leaves and for the finer types, include a significant amount of tip.
At Tea Palace, we are extremely rigorous about product testing and sourcing only the finest quality loose leaf black teas. Our extensive sampling and testing process ensures that our range includes teas deemed to be of the highest possible quality.
Tea Palace does not source broken leaf teas. We are committed to promoting the luxury, quality and flavour of whole leaf and therefore we only accept whole leaf teas classified at the highest end of the grading scale. This applies throughout our range from single estate teas to those used in our blends.
Our Darjeelings are selected to include key characteristics depending on when in the year the leaves are harvested. First Flush is expected to be fresh, tippy and less often less oxidised than other types with more unprocessed tea plant flavour often found in white teas
Second and Autumnal types are expected to be aromatic, complex and tippy with bold flavours whilst retaining freshness and smooth character.