A hint of nostalgia, tightly packed with a light aroma, Darjeeling Tea is a fresh brew sourced straight from the mountains- what you’d sit sipping in your backyard on a rainy evening reminiscent of that time you’d spent up in the hills. Widely exported and heavily well known, Darjeeling Tea is referred to tea that has been grown in the hilly slopes of Darjeeling, Kurseong, and Kalimpong in West Bengal.
Yes, those hilly slopes you see winding up on your way to the mountains- most of it is homegrown Darjeeling Tea. The catch, however, is that Darjeeling Tea is strictly referred to as tea that has been completely grown in Darjeeling- from cultivating, growing, going through the production process, manufacturing, and the end result of processing in a tea garden.
The history of Darjeeling Tea can be traced back to as early as the 1840s. A civil surgeon, Archibald Campbell brought some seeds of Camellia sinensis, commonly known as the Chinese tea plant, and tried his hand at tea planting in Darjeeling. This motivated the then government to start tea nurseries shortly. The first tea garden in Alubari was opened in the year 1856 and there’s been no turning back since then.
What is Darjeeling Tea?
Darjeeling Tea is made from Camellia sinensis which are typically smaller leaves as compared to other tea varieties. Darjeeling Tea is best consumed as black tea, but that has become more of traditional practice with more tea estates specializing in oolong, green, and white tea varieties. Darjeeling Tea when brewed makes for a light drink that has a subtle floral aroma naturally infused into it.
Flushes and Varieties of Darjeeling Tea
A flush begins with the time period taken by a tea plant to grow till the time its leaves are harvested. Darjeeling Tea grows in three flushes- March-mid to May is the time for the first flush, June through August is when the second flush takes place, and the third flush happens in autumn- October and November.
Flushes highly vary with varying weather conditions and also depend on the geographical location of the area it is being cultivated in. Flushes determine the colour, taste and aroma of the tea, which is how black, green and oolong Darjeeling tea are distinguished from one another.
Varieties of Darjeeling tea are:
Oolong tea – The first flush Darjeeling Tea which is semi-fermented and makes for a light orange brew with a distinct floral aroma is oolong tea. The leaves for oolong are finely plucked as two leaves and a bud and are often left to wither in the presence of natural elements of air and sun.
White tea – A more exotic form of Darjeeling Tea, white tea makes for a golden brew, often really pale in look and a subtle sweetness in taste. White tea is also hand-picked and then left to sundry, however, what makes it unique is it is mostly grown at an altitude of above 2000 m where the climate is generally gloomy, rainy and colder.
Green tea – Green tea is not fermented, instead it is steamed to prevent the process of oxidation. It also is a lot less bitter in taste.
Black tea – This is the most traditional form of Darjeeling Tea consumption and has undergone complete fermentation. It makes for a thicker, darker brew.
What sets Darjeeling Tea apart?
Darjeeling Tea is set apart for its distinct taste, aroma, rarity, and the prices it fetches. Darjeeling approximately produces around 11000 tons of authentic Darjeeling Tea which is a fairly small number if you look at the consumption and export ratio. The higher elevated terrain of Darjeeling and its surrounding areas where most tea gardens are based is what lends each variety of tea the distinct characteristics it possesses.
The fact that an immense amount of manual labour coupled with expertise, care, and love goes into the entire process- from cultivation to production only makes Darjeeling Tea all the more special.
Darjeeling Tea is also known to have various health benefits. It acts as an antioxidant and helps do away with toxins in the body. It hydrates the body and is effective in aiding to digestion as well. Most importantly, a good old cup of freshly brewed Darjeeling Tea can help reduce stress levels.
How to make the best cup of Darjeeling Tea?
With a lot of love and care, even if you’re brewing it for yourself!
You can experiment before you settle for your favourite version of Darjeeling Tea, however, the most common technique involves steeping one teaspoon of tea for 3-5 minutes into water that’s at a slightly lesser temperature than boiling water. You can then add milk, more water, lemon, or sugar- whatever you prefer on the steeped tea or drink it the old fashioned way. Add a porcelain teapot and an antique China cup and you’re all set!