Darjeeling: The Champagne of Black Teas

August 13, 2019
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Darjeeling is a term often overheard in tea discussions. It slides and slips through the chats, sometimes even referred to as the “Champagne of black teas”. The place bears some kind of mystical aura, a sort of granted reputation always agreed upon but rarely understood.  We know somehow that Darjeeling teas are exceptional, but very few really know how or why. Well, what is it with Darjeeling exactly that makes it so special?

Every spring for the last 26 years Kevin has scoured the region of Darjeeling to put together a list of teas like no other. His aim is to showcase this tiny region’s extraordinary spectrum of flavor profiles in all its diversity. Approaching the list can be a little daunting so we’ve put together a little guide to help you through.

The region

Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, the region of Darjeeling presents a unique environment for growing tea. Its geographical and meteorological factors make cultivation a challenge: lack of sunlight, damp atmosphere and cold mountain climate all contribute to shortening the growing season. And shorter growing season equals fewer leaves to harvest, and therefore less material to sell. This, in exchange, produces leaves of extraordinary flavours. Thanks to this slow and tedious growth, Darjeeling teas are blessed with a rare aromatic complexity and richness. Moreover, the impossibility to compete with the high volumes produced in other milder regions of the world pushed Darjeeling growers towards producing finer tasting teas. All of this eventually leads to this exceptional taste now sought after by global markets.

First Flush

The term First Flush refers to the first budding of leaves in the spring, after the long dormant period of winter. This budding in turns calls for the first picking season and the beginning of the annual production. At this time of year, the leaves are bursting with aromatic chemistry so producers tend toward a dry wither to capture the magic. Hard withering greatly reduces the water content in the leaves, in turn significantly slowing down oxidation. Thus the First Flush Darjeelings are so much greener and paler in the cup.

In technical terms, this processing is still a black tea sequence though the timings are different to other black teas.  Almost exclusively seen in Darjeeling, this method has become a trade-mark specialty of the region.  

Darjeeling First Flush Singell organic and Fairtrade

Clear liquor, lively and balanced, with rich herbal and floral aromas. From the “Heritage” section of this classic garden, planted with 150-year-old tea bushes.

Darjeeling First Flush Sungma organic

Produced with a sense of tradition, this clonal Darjeeling gives a fresh and invigorating liquor with a real balance between its woody (bark), mineral, cereal, and fruity aromas.

Second Flush

From the end of June until mid-July, a second period of harvest takes place. And it yields higher volumes. Although they are new, the leaves picked during this time are firmer. They are processed using a longer oxidation period which gives a full-bodied brew with a malty fragrance and often ripe fruit aromas.

Darjeeling Second Flush Singbulli organic

The Singbulli garden has been pretty quiet in recent years but could make a reputation for itself with this style of exceptional large leaf clonal tea. This lot, with a superbly balanced body and soft tannins, really brings out a burst of aromas. We understand why the reputation.

Darjeeling Second Flush Jungpana organic

A lively and powerful tea with a long spicy finish, typical of this garden. Substantial and complex, it sets the example for exceptional classic lots.

Autumn Flush

In October and November, just after the Monsoon and before the winter hibernation, the final harvest of the year is carried to the factory. Originally thought to be lesser in quality, this harvest used to be processed simply in order to give gardens a higher overall output. But a shift in interests turned attention to these lots. When cultivated and processed skillfully, they also bear a clear and unique taste profile which, again, becomes another trademark.

Darjeeling Autumnal Seeyok organic and Fairtrade

Coppery and woody liquor with just enough astringency to accompany any breakfast. Its butterscotch accents nicely soften its full-body and warm character.

Darjeeling Autumnal Jungpana organic

These graceful leaves show sustained oxidation and give a coppery, well-structured infusion. Woody and fruity aromas (zest, raisins) later develop hints of spices, leather, and roasted nuts.

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