Darjeeling. The Champagne of teas. The first Indian product to ever get a GI tag designation. Delicious.
Despite its reputation of being a wholly Indian luxury product, there is something particularly odd about that reputation; it is usually plucked from the Chinese variety of the Camellia Sinensis plant, instead of the Indian one. It’s a dirty secret, but the Darjeeling tea scandal doesn’t stop there. Darjeeling teas are almost across the board marketed as black teas, but here’s the funny thing. Almost all of the teas, during the oxidation process, halt before 100%, which by definition makes them oolongs. An Indian luxury black tea could be viewed as a Chinese Oolong. The tea scandal of the century. But wait! There is one more thing. There are nearly forty tonnes of “Darjeeling teas” being sold across the globe yearly, however, only one quarter of those meet the GI tag designation, meaning only ten thousand tonnes are in fact Darjeelings. When in doubt, look for this logo.
Enough bad-mouthing one of my favourite teas, though, and let’s get onto learning.
First flush Darjeeling teas:
These teas are picked in the spring season, usually around mid-March, just after some gentle spring rains. The earlier in the season, the better the tea will be. The first flush are the most prized teas because younger tea leaves or buds will usually make a better tasting cup of tea. Locals of the Darjeeling terroir often don’t even bother with tea leaves plucked within the last two or three weeks in the first flush season, because at that point in the season, the leaves are old and will not produce as good of a cup of tea. Typically, first flush teas will taste delicate and floral, with a gentle aroma, and mild astringency.
Second flush Darjeeling teas:
The tea shrubs go through a period of dormancy until June, when monsoon season starts up. It’s raining and humid almost constantly, and the shrubs love every minute of it. Because of the vast difference in climate, the tea will taste very much different. Typically, it will be full-bodied with a very strong muscatel flavour and aroma to them. Before first flush Darjeelings got their reputation, second flush Darjeeling teas were all the rage.
Third Flush Darjeeling Teas:
Again, the teas lay dormant when the monsoon season is over, and they begin to flourish again during the fall. Most tea snobs don’t pay much attention to this particular flush. It is more full-bodied than the second flush, and more astringent, as well.
Recommended dealers for Darjeeling: