Known for its floral aroma and muscatel flavor, tea from the Darjeeling region of India is often referred to as the champagne of tea.
What is Darjeeling tea?
Darjeeling tea, like all tea, comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. To be called Darjeeling, the leaves must come from specified areas in West Bengal, India. There are just over 80 tea gardens in the Darjeeling region that produce the tea, located at the foothills of the Himalayas. The tea gardens must be located at an elevation of at least 3,000 ft above sea level and the leaves grown under strict conditions. It is believed that the slow growth of the tea plants is what enables the leaves to develop their unique flavor.
Historically, Darjeeling teas have been produced as black teas. There are green and oolong types, however, that are starting to gain popularity.
There are multiple varieties of Darjeeling tea based upon when the tea leaves are harvested. For example, when harvested just after the Spring rains, we refer to the Darjeeling as First Flush. The brew will typically be very light in color and have a gentle, floral aroma and mild astringency. Due to the limited time in which the leaves are harvested, First Flush Darjeeling tends to be higher in price.
Darjeeling harvested in the Summer is referred to as Second Flush. The steeped leaves tend to yield an amber-colored cup with a muscatel flavor. An In Between Darjeeling would have been harvested between the First and Second Flush periods. There is also an Autumnal Flush harvested after the monsoon season which yields a darker, fuller-bodied cup.
Be sure to ask your tea vendor which tea garden the Darjeeling tea is from as well as which Flush. There are impostors out there, so buyer beware!