Located in the West Bengal state of north India, Darjeeling is a very small region in the foothills of the Himalayas. Blessed with high-altitude and cool temperatures, Darjeeling tea is world famous for its incredibly delicate and aromatic flavours; unfortunately, due to the small region size, Darjeeling only produces 0.36% of the world’s tea, and only 1.13% of all the tea grown in India!
Elevations of 800-2,000m ensure the tea trees are shrouded in cool mist, which results in the plant to growing slowly and producing better flavours; this has granted Darjeeling its reputation for a producing high quality leaves. Sometimes known as the ‘Champagne of teas’, Darjeeling is the result of an experimental introduction of the smaller-leafed Chinese tea plant (‘Camellia Sinensis var. sinensis’) to Indian terroir in 1841. The main type of tea produced in Darjeeling is black tea, however oolong, green and white leaves are also available, but not as common.
Despite being classified as a black tea, Darjeeling leaves are almost always less oxidised than other typical black tea varieties due to the ‘hard wither’ (in the leaf-drying stage of tea production) that leaves them with less moisture content than most black tea leaves and therefore a softer texture (oxidation is much slower for leaves containing a higher percentage of water).
There are three ‘flushes , or growing seasons, of Darjeeling. The first flush is grown and harvested from mid-March to May, the second flush from June to mid-August, and the third (known as the autumnal flush) from October to November, however these patterns may differ slightly from year to year depending on the weather in Darjeeling.
First flush Darjeeling infusions, are very light in colour and very mild in taste with an almost flowery flavour, while the second flush provides a coppery cup with a more astringent taste. Autumn Darjeeling is much more full-bodied than both the previous flushes, but still bright and pleasant with a light aroma.
Which Darjeeling should you choose?
At the Hebden Tea Company we have a range of Darjeeling teas:
Darjeeling First Flush (No.20): This Darjeeling has a golden cup, with a mild, fresh taste and soft grassy notes. The leaves offer a very smooth and light drink, with a hint of tanginess.
Darjeeling First Flush, FTGFOP Grade 1 (No.22): A pale yellow cup with an incredibly smooth liquor and light taste; if you enjoy both black tea and white tea, this is for you! This tea has an almost floral aroma and is bright in both colour and taste, with very mild hints of the tanginess associated with a black tea. You wont find much harshness or astringency with this choice, just a pleasant grassiness and a very delicate drink. Remember to keep steeping times short with this leaf to avoid over-stewing, and use water a little below boiling (80ºC).
Darjeeling Second Flush, Himalayan Blend (No.25): A stronger-tasting Darjeeling than the first flush, this blend of second flush leaves is darker in colour and more tangy in flavour, whilst remaining mild and smooth. Providing a gentle spicy flavour with hints of nuttiness, this tea is full-bodied and relatively astringent.
Darjeeling Second Flush, Tindharian Rose (No.27): The newest in our range of Darjeeling teas, this single-estate FTGFOP1 is milder than the Himalayan Blend. Still a second flush, this tea offers an amber cup, and a mild tasting drink with little astringency. The aromatic addition of rose softens the spicy tones and masks the tanginess typical of black teas.
You may also like:
Nepal Maloom FTGFOP1 (No.45): This light leaf has a golden cup and a refreshing, grassy taste. Similar to a first flush Darjeeling, this tea is smooth and fresh with a delicate aroma and almost fruity notes. This tea is best enjoyed without milk.
Nilgiri Thiashola STGFOP1 (No.29): Another light black tea with a grassy taste. This very aromatic leaf is for Darjeeling drinkers looking for a slightly harsher, tangy flavour. This warming tea has a coppery cup and makes the perfect afternoon treat!
If you prefer a stronger-tasting tea, maybe Assam is the leaf for you.