Darjeeling Teas are rightfully called 'The Champagne of Teas' and have been a regal gift from India to the world! From purists to amateurs, Darjeeling Tea is wildly popular with tea drinkers around the world. Here's everything you need to know about it.
'Tea' for centuries has been an integral part of our everyday lives. A cup of tea is a daily ritual for millions around the globe and for good reasons! Be it a regal cup of premium Black tea from Darjeeling, a soothing cup of chamomile tea to help you wrap up a hectic day, or the various herbal tisanes that are a perfect detox solution amidst our maddening schedules. With half the amount of caffeine as compared to a cup of coffee, tea is a perfect way to replenish and rejuvenate.
The Champagne of Teas
From a purist to a beginner, we welcome you to the enchanting world of teas. Now that we have been inducted into the prestigious Oprah’s Favorite Things for 2018, we now take it upon ourselves to bring the luxury of Indian Teas to more and more tea lovers around the world. Today, we shall commence this journey with the ‘Champagne of Teas’, a befitting title for the prized and world-renowned Darjeeling Teas. Hailed to be royalty in the world of aristocratic teas. From a bouquet of fruity and floral notes to the regal muscatel Darjeeling Tea taste, this cup has a reputation that precedes itself.
In this comprehensive guide to Darjeeling Teas, we shall read about the mother plant Camellia Sinensis that produces this gorgeous brew, the seasonality and the various flushes of the Darjeeling Tea, and the work that goes behind us bringing you an unparalleled cup of a fresh cup of tea, the different types of tea, the allied health benefits of the cup, and everything else in between.
We sincerely hope that you enjoy this guide as much as I have while delving into this magnificent cup!
What is Darjeeling Tea?
Speaking of our winning cup, Darjeeling tea from India is usually harvested from the small-leaved Chinese variety of Camellia sinensis sinensis, while all other Indian Teas are cultivated using the large-leaf Assamica varieties. While Indian teas rose to the elite stature with its inexplicable Darjeeling Black Tea, off late exclusive and boutique varieties of Oolong Teas, Green teas and White teas are being harvested by these tea estates. Owing to the popularity of the immense popularity that this cup has enjoyed, Darjeeling received a Geographical (GI) tag in 2004–2005.
Unlike the finest of wines, Tea loses its character and flavor over time. The sooner your tea reaches you from the tea gardens, the fresher it is. But Tea, like any other agricultural product, has specific harvest periods in a year and hence is seasonal.
Climate and Geography play a key role in deciding which variety of tea can be grown in which region and hence teas from different regions have entirely different flavor characteristics. Every region differs in its kind of soil, climate, altitude, and terrain, collectively known as ‘terroir’.
The process of efficiently harvesting tea is a form of art, something that we have honed carefully over time. The timing of the harvest holds the key to how good the cup would be. From the bud appearing, opening up, and then growing into the prized leaves — all of this transpires within a few days. Hence it is imperative for the farmer to know exactly when to harvest the tea for bringing us a treasured and flavorsome cup of Premium Darjeeling Black Tea.
This timely harvest decides the fate of the cup. Certain teas require only buds to be plucked, while some others require only the small, new shoots which appear on the bush after a certain period of dormancy.
The harvest periods in Darjeeling last from late March to early November and is broken up into 4 parts: First flush, Second flush, monsoon flush, and autumnal flush. At times, the plants will continue to flush past November, this is sometimes called a Winter flush. Now let’s take a look at what each harvest season bestows upon these magnificent Darjeeling tea leaves.
Spring Flush or First Flush Darjeeling Teas
First flush Darjeeling teas are the ones harvested during the months of March, April and May. Sourced from the first fresh leaves of the year- these teas have a characteristic flavor profile of being mild, soft on the palate, invigorating spring-like aroma, and mellow.
We source our Darjeeling First Flush Teas from some of the revered tea gardens in Darjeeling, some of which are : Okayti Tea estate, Gopaldhara Tea estate, Arya Tea estate, Glenburn tea estate and many more.
Summer Flush or Second Flush Darjeeling Teas
Darjeeling Second Flush Teas are harvested during the months of May, June, and July and boast of a unique taste profile of being ‘muscatel’ in taste. Muscatel denotes a sweet, roasted taste resembling those of Muscat grapes, and is much desired among tea drinkers. The summer flush teas of this region are also fruity and strong in nature and hence are widely used in making flavored teas as well. Discover the delicate flavor and aroma of some of the most sought after Teas in the world.
Autumn Flush Darjeeling Teas
This marks the final harvest season in Darjeeling, otherwise known as Autumn Flush which lasts for the months of September, October, and November. The harvest period for Darjeeling Autumn Flush teas arrives to post the monsoon season and this is when the temperatures begin to drop. Revered as one of the most sought-after harvest seasons, these teas boast enticing characteristics like the signature floral and fruity flavor and the deeply refreshing aroma which makes them every tea connoisseur’s choice.
This marks the harsh, cold winter months in Darjeeling which lasts from the month of November to February. During this period, the tea bushes are in hibernation and hence there is no production. The season again opens up in the month of March.
The Manufacturing of Darjeeling Teas
Your beloved Darjeeling black teas are cultivated by renowned Darjeeling tea gardens which span over a thousand acres or by individual small growers. Often elevation of tea gardens is a crucial factor in deciding the quality and flavor of teas. Some of the most exquisite Darjeeling teas are grown at higher elevations on steep slopes. It is one of the many factors that decide the quality of pure Darjeeling tea from India.
The tedious processing of Tea is an art in itself and has been developed over the last several centuries and now is classified into two types: Orthodox manufacturing and Unorthodox or CTC manufacturing. The ‘Orthodox manufacturing’ method is the more traditional and is famed to produce teas with nuanced cup characteristics, complex flavor profiles, and enchanting aromas.
Once the harvesting season opens, tea pickers handpick the tea leaves and once a significant quantity is plucked, the harvest is carried to a tea facility with a controlled environment where these leaves go through a series of procedures and depending on which procedures are involved in the processing, we get various kinds of tea. Typically in a day, tea pickers fill several baskets with freshly plucked tea leaves which are carefully inspected and weighed to ensure only premium quality tea leaves go for processing. An interesting fact here, it takes approximately 2000 leaves to make one pound of tea. Once the weighing is done, the leaves go for processing wherein a total of 5–6 procedures are involved, namely: Withering, Rolling, Oxidation, Firing, Sorting, and Tasting.
Courtesy: Gavin Gough
Freshly plucked leaves from a tea garden have a lot of moisture and hence are quite fragile. Hence wilting of the leaves is a necessary step wherein the freshly plucked tea leaves are laid out on troughs for a couple of hours to lose some of the moisture, allow the flavors to open up, and eventually ‘wither’. This process ensures that the tea leaves soften and withstand the processing steps without tearing apart. Depending on how long this withering process is, the leaves either retain their original green color or put on a darker color with a strong aroma if withered for a longer period of time.
This significant step is responsible for tightly shaping the leaves. Rolling brings out the exquisite Darjeeling Tea flavor profile and leaf appearance. The leaves are either hand-rolled or passed through a rolling machine. Typically rolling twists, curls, and turns the withered leaves into a wiry and thin form. A variety of rolling techniques are used to produce kneaded tea leaves or leaf pellets.
This process of rolling is very important for the withered tea leaves as this process extracts the prized oils and other nutrients from the leaves and further intensifies the flavor, strength, and aroma of the tea. This process is necessary before the leaves proceed for oxidation.
The process of Oxidation radically determines the tea’s type, color, strength, and flavor. For this process, the rolled tea leaves are laid out on troughs and are left for a certain period of time at a set temperature of 25–30ºC, controlled humidity between 60–65%, and aeration. During oxidation, active enzymes in the leaves react with oxygen in the air and a series of enzymatic reactions convert the catechins (polyphenols) in the leaves into flavonoids which contribute to the briskness of the liquor, decide the color of the tea, and also provide depth to the tea’s characteristics. Oxidation also leads to the breakdown of the chlorophyll which is responsible for the leaf’s color turning from green to beige and eventually a dark brown/black color. Experts use various methods to initiate or halt the process of oxidation at various stages of processing to develop various kinds of teas. In order to stop oxidation, the tea leaves are sent for drying or fixing.
Semi-oxidized teas will only have a part of the catechins being converted into flavonoids, resulting in the partial browning of leaves and an amber-colored liquor. In case of fully oxidized teas, the enzymatic reaction is complete and lipids, amino acids completely break down resulting in dark brown/black leaves. Since most of the catechins are converted, the liquor is brisk and reddish in color.
Drying and Aging
Drying is an essential part of tea processing to keep the final product moisture-free and hence is employed at various stages. Once the leaves have been oxidized to the desired level, they are passed through hot-air drying machines. This brings down the moisture content in the leaves to less than 1%. The leaves are either simply dried or fired/roasted at a set temperature for a set period of time. This makes the leaves ready to be further sorted and packed. All of these steps, if they achieve the set precision, produce a beautiful and delectable cup of Darjeeling special.
The Health Benefits of Darjeeling Tea
Besides the heavenly and uplifting Darjeeling tea taste, the cup brings you a world of good health. Being the world’s second most consumed beverage, Tea has an abundance of natural goodness. From building immunity to regulating blood pressure, the list of Darjeeling tea benefits is compelling
Let’s start with the caffeine levels in Darjeeling tea. When compared to a cup of coffee, the levels of Darjeeling tea caffeine are almost half! A cup of Darjeeling tea contains anywhere between 70 to 120 milligrams of caffeine, which is half the amount of an 8-ounce serving of coffee. Yes, it also does depend on the strength of your brew.
Low levels of Darjeeling tea caffeine mean that there are no jittery spurts of energy or the common restlessness that people experience after having a cup of coffee. But not only this, along with low caffeine levels, having a cup of Darjeeling tea regularly brings you the following health benefits:-
An Abundance of Antioxidants
Darjeeling teas, just like any other tea, contain an abundance of health-promoting antioxidants. The two most commonly found complex antioxidants in Darjeeling teas are ‘theaflavins’ and ‘thearubigins’. Flushing your body with antioxidants will help with neutralizing harmful free radicals and will help in flushing out toxins from your body, which otherwise could contribute to a host of diseases.
Reduces the Risk of Certain Cancers
Darjeeling teas possess a class of antioxidants known as ‘polyphenols’ which have been proven to reduce the risk of getting certain kinds of cancers. With anti-mutagenic properties, Darjeeling tea benefits your body by drastically reducing the risk of cellular mutations, the start of a variety of cancers. So indulge in the sumptuous Darjeeling tea flavor while giving yourself a priceless gift of health as well!
Improves Overall Immunity
Thanks to the abundance of complex antioxidants, having a cup of Darjeeling tea from India regularly strengthens your immune system. The ‘Theanine’ present in Darjeeling teas blocks the negative effects of cortisol, improving the body’s innate defense against a variety of common diseases.
Improves Focus and Alertness
The perfect amount of caffeine and a class of amino acids called ‘L-Theanine’, together help significantly improve cognitive functions by increasing the level of alpha activity in the brain. This improves focus and overall alertness. So if you are looking for a healthy cup to start your day with, we would advise getting on with a cup of Darjeeling Tea.
Beneficial for Your Heart
Drinking a cup of Darjeeling black tea every day will help improve your cardiac health. The class of antioxidants called ‘Polyphenols; present in Darjeeling black teas reduce the oxidation of harmful LDL-Cholesterol and bring down its levels. Black teas also help in increasing blood circulation and regulating blood pressure levels. Additionally, Darjeeling teas are blessed with a flavonoid which reduces the risk of cardiac strokes.
With so many more health-promoting benefits, this cup truly deserves the prestigious title of ‘Champagne of Teas’. So the next time, you pick up a garden fresh cup of Darjeeling tea, picture yourself in the blissful lap of the grand Himalayas and picturesque misty tea gardens, as that’s where the revered Darjeeling experience begins!
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