I have gotten some questions about Darjeeling tea recently since I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I was enjoying my First Flush Darjeeling that I received directly from the Glenburn Tea Estate. Some of my followers wanted to know what kind of tea it was and why I love it.
So, what is Darjeeling tea and what the heck is a First Flush?
The tea is named for the region it comes from. The Darjeeling District is located in the northeast corner of India. It is a beautiful area at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains. The tea grown there is at an elevation from 1,500 to 6,000 feet high. It is known to many people as "the Champagne of teas." I would have to agree with that!
Tea is similar to wine is so many ways. One way that it is similar is what is called the "terroir." The term was used to describe the taste of wine that encompasses the region, belonging to the specific appellation, sharing of soil, weather conditions, grapes, and wine-making savoir-faire which gives a specific personality to the wine. Basically this means that the taste of wine is influenced greatly by the "taste of place." This is very true of tea as well. The "terroir of tea" refers to not just a cultivar or specific variety although that contributes to the taste, but to many other things as well. The climate, soil, rainfall, weather, and the traditions of the country where the tea is produced all come into play.
So what is the "terroir" of Darjeeling teas. The high altitude is part of it, but that is not all of it. The area is known to have steep slopes that provide good drainage for the monsoon rains. The rainfall, humidity, and the mist from the cloud cover have an effect on the taste. The plant hybrid is a smaller leaf Chinese type known as Camellia sinensis sinensis which also contributes to the tea's unique taste. The processing of the tea also comes into play to give the tea such a distinct flavor.
It is important to know name Darjeeling tea is protected. Only tea that is cultivated, grown and produced in 87 designated tea gardens in the defined region of the District of Darjeeling can be called Darjeeling Tea. Darjeeling Tea has now been registered as a GI (Geographical Indication) in India. This officially places Darjeeling Tea in the esteemed company of a Cognac or Champagne - other famous GIs. The unique geographical conditions of Darjeeling help make its teas a rarity in the same way Cognac and Champagne are rare because they can only come from specific regions of France.
In Darjeeling, tea has "seasons." The first pluck of the season starts in March after tea plants have been dormant through the winter. This is what is known as a "first flush." It's flavor is described as light and bright, smooth on the palate with undertones of citrus flowers and peach and oh so delicious!
So hopefully I have tantalized you enough to try some Darjeeling tea! I love getting my tea direct from the plantation. If you are a business owner, you can order directly from Glenburn Tea Estate too. I had the privilege of meeting the lovely plantation owners, Anshuman and Husna-Tara Prakash at a trade event last year. I hope to visit their plantation in the very near future!
Did I mention that you can stay directly on the plantation? Well, that is for another post!
Happy Sipping Darjeeling Tea (of course), Lisa
(All photos in this blog post are courtesy of Glenburn Tea Estate and have copyright protection)
Lisa Boalt Richardson is the author of the award-winning Tea with a Twist, Entertaining and Cooking with Tea and The World in Your Teacup: Celebrating Tea Traditions Near and Far. She is now working on her third tea book due out by Spring 2014 with Chronicle Books. She travels the country speaking at conferences and special events focusing on her culinary arts and specialty tea expertise. As one of the first 15 in the world to graduate from the Specialty Tea Institute in 2008, Lisa holds the title of “Certified Tea Specialist”. She resides in Atlanta with her husband and two children.