Darjeeling tea is from the Darjeeling district in West Bengal, the most famous tea region in India. Also known as “Queen of the Hills”, Darjeeling is home to over eighty tea gardens, many with generations of family involved since their inception. Though Darjeeling is an Indian-grown tea, the leaves are actually Chinese. Tea planting in the Indian district of Darjeeling began in 1841 by Arthur Campbell, a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service. Campbell was transferred to Darjeeling in 1839 from Kathmandu, Nepal and used seeds stolen from China (Camellia sinensis) to begin experimental tea planting, a practice he and others continued during the 1840s.
Like Champagne grapes, Darjeeling tea leaves have been cited to have a flavor so distinctly specific to their terroir that they have achieved "Geographical Indication" status, protecting the name of "Darjeeling Tea" to be used only on teas produced in that region. Adulteration and falsification are serious problems in the global tea trade; as of 2004, the amount of tea sold as Darjeeling worldwide every year exceeds 40,000 tonnes, while the annual tea production of Darjeeling itself is estimated at only 10,000 tonnes, including local consumption. To combat this situation, the Tea Board of India administers the Darjeeling certification mark and logo.
Darjeeling is frequently called the "Champagne of teas," with musky-sweet tasting notes similar to muscat wine. It can taste more like wine than other tea, with flavors of French grapes and Himalayan mountain air, sometimes giving it a delicate vegetal, mossy, fruity, and citrus flavor. Even if you're not a tea drinker, good Darjeeling is so interesting that it's really worth a try. Discovering delicate, verdant first flush and sultry-sweet second flush Darjeelings is like learning about gin if you only knew about vodka and whiskey. It's a tea game-changer, a taste that the Western mass tea market just doesn't pay enough attention to.It is available in black, green, white and oolong. When properly brewed, it yields a thin-bodied, light-coloured infusion with a floral aroma. The flavour can include a tinge of astringent tannic characteristics, and a musky spiciness sometimes described as "muscatel". While classified as a black tea, Darjeeling teas are almost always less oxidized than a typical black tea. The unique flavor of Darjeeling comes from Chinese tea genetics mixing with Indian terroir—plus the intricacies of harvesting and processing. It's lighter and less astringent than most black tea, but more layered and complex than most greens.
The same Darjeeling tea from the same plantation will taste different depending on when it's harvested. The growing season of Darjeeling teas are, like many, categorized into "flushes", from the first early spring buds and leaves all through the monsoon season and into the fall.
First flush Darjeelings, harvested in mid-March following spring rains, picked just after winter's passing, are thought to be oolong-like in their delicate flavor, are lighter colored in the leaf and in the cup, and considered interesting, delicate, smooth arboreal-minty-fresh with mountain air flavors. First flush Darjeelings also have that satisfying balance of sweetness and astringency that's often hard to find in good tea. It'll be sweet, fragrant, and astringent in equal turns, easygoing so you can just drink and enjoy, but complicated enough to keep your interest piqued.
Second flush Darjeeling, harvested in June, is where the muscat flavors begin to develop a big wine-live flavor, with a more forthright presence in the cup and notes that are likely to evoke currant and stone fruit with a more darker golden liquor upon brewing. The rainy soils of the monsoon flush literally muddy the flavor of Darjeeling teas—this season is less desirable. The tea is less withered, consequently more oxidized, and usually sold at lower prices. It is rarely exported, and often used in masala chai.
The final harvest is the fall flush, which steeps a deeper-colored copper and has a larger body with caramel notes.
Though first and second flush Darjeelings are well sought-after, it's more likely to find rainy or late-season flushes used as blending teas to achieve specific flavor profiles desirable in Darjeelings.
Darjeeling teas are produced in the "orthodox" fashion, i.e. without machine tearing processes. The most delicate leaves are hand-picked, air-withered for many hours, and rolled into twist-shape on gentle mechanical rollers, then further oxidized and fired. Darjeeling teas—not always fully oxidized—have traditionally been classified as black teas, but more recently there has been a movement towards intentionally producing some Darjeelings in true oolong method.
Below, Darjeeling tea aficionados will find, a list of tea terms to describe the Darjeeling loose leaf teas in its raw, dry, or infused state.
• Bloom: A term used to refer to the silken sheen, silvery hairy lustre on the tea leaves, resulting from the neat distribution of fine pubescence on the leaf surface.
• Bright: Referring to the infused tea leaves. The hue ranges from lively bright colour, as opposed to dull and varies from a delicate lime green ( with hints of fading coppery ) in the first flush or spring flush tea leaves to a bright copper-purple in second flush tea leaves and to a pale brown in autumn flush tea leaves.
• Colour: It’s a term relating to the hue on dry tea leaves. Each flush has its own particular characteristics . • First Flush Tea Leaves or Spring Tea as it is also commonly called has grayish-greenish. • Second flush tea leaves or the summer tea leaves has a purplish-brown shade. • Autumn Teas, have blackish brown hues.
• Even: A term used for infused leaves for the uniformity of colour and size of the tea leaves.
• Nose/Point: It’s a term referred to the infused leafs for their fragrance which has subtle hints of flowers or fruits or Muscatel character or sometimes showing characteristics of transuding all three combined.
• Stylish: A term used for referring to dry tea leafs which are wiry, neatly twisted and evenly sized.
• Tippy: A term commonly referred to the unopened buds on the tea bush which are transformed into silvery particles called Tips, and which provide an attractive appearance in the ‘finished’ tea.
"Chicken soup": A nickname for very milky Darjeeling
Darjeeling tea is generally sold by the grade of the leaf. The grades fall into four basic groups: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings, and dust.
SFTGFOP: Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe indicates it contains many tips and is long and wiry in appearance. The liquors are lighter in colour.
FTGFOP: Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
Broken leaf consists of small tea leaves or pieces of large leaves.
FTGBOP: Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
TGBOP: Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
FBOP: Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe
Fannings consists of even smaller leaf sizes than the brokens.
GFOF: Golden Flowery Orange Fannings
GOF: Golden Orange Fannings
Dust, the lowest grade, consists of small pieces of tea leaves and tea dust.
S. Souchong - A twisted leaf picked from the bottom of the tea bush.
P. Pekoe - A wiry, large broken leaf usually without golden tips.