Darjeeling Tea - All You Need To Know
Let’s Explore Darjeeling Tea
Almost 5,000 miles away from the Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company in the mountainous region of Darjeeling, India, experienced and dedicated workers will be wrapping up some of 2017’s iconic Darjeeling First Flush Tea. For centuries, Darjeeling has blessed the tea industry with some of the most prized and sought-after blends in the world.
The Town of Darjeeling is located in the Lesser Himalayas at an elevation of 6.700ft. (2,042m), Darjeeling Tea plantations across the Darjeeling region have prided themselves in creating arguably one of the most unique types of tea currently on the market.
Its rarity is renowned, and with its demand far surpassing its availability, it is no surprise that its price range can often be higher than other, more attainable blends. Yet Darjeeling First Flush Tea has acquired a name for itself – and rightfully so.
The Region of Darjeeling
India, as a whole, shares a long and expansive history with tea. Of the three main tea-growing regions found in India, Darjeeling is not the largest, yet it is the best known for yielding some of the most delicate and distinctive teas in the world. However, despite its unquestionable significance, the region of Darjeeling is only capable of producing approximately 1% on India’s total tea output!
Stretching between high mountain ridges and deep mountain valleys, it can often be challenging terrain to access, perhaps accounting for such a low percentage in India’s tea industry.
Yet this region holds a secret – for much of its produce is not originally native to India at all! In fact, most of Darjeeling Tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis Sinensis plant, a Chinese variant, as opposed to the Indian Camellia Sinensis Assamica.
These Chinese plants have since acclimatised to the high elevation and rugged terrain of Darjeeling and now thrive throughout the landscape. Many specialists also consider that a sizeable proportion of produce is now harvested from China-India hybrid plants found nowhere else in the world.
What is Darjeeling Tea?
There are many different ways to appropriately classify tea. Exploring the types of tea is a popular classification and refers to blends such as white tea, green tea, black tea, etc. Further to this, teas can also be defined by the country or region where they are grown, such as India, China, Ceylon, or Assam. A ‘flush’ often refers to the time of year / season when the tea leaves were plucked.
Like many other plants, Camellia Sinensis will often lie in a state of dormancy during the winter months. In the region of Darjeeling in particular, storms and generally harsh weather mean that extra care needs to be taken to ensure the plants survive during this often-gruelling period of time.
Plants less than 4 years old require extra attention as they find themselves more susceptible to winter’s unrelenting scorn. Despite this, the weather conditions that roll across the region will ultimately play an integral role in the growing cycle of the tea plant. By Springtime, Darjeeling’s incredible journey begins again as the valleys and hilltops come to life in time for the First Flush of the year.
Some say there are three flushes each growing season in Darjeeling while others say there are four flushes, maybe even five. The first, however, is considered the most precious and sought-after, with its harvesting conducted from late-February / early-March and going through until mid-April.
This period of time can often change depending on the weather but by May, most of Darjeeling First Flush Tea produce will be ready and waiting to be shipped out across the world. Renowned for being delicate and tender, as well as light, floral and fresh, Darjeeling First Flush Tea is the most popular of all the flushes.
Why is Darjeeling First Flush so Green in Appearance?
A common misconception with Darjeeling First Flush is that it is a Green Tea on the grounds of its unusual colour. Contrary to this belief, First Flush is almost always a black tea due to the processing method used during the manufacturing period. After the tea leaves are taken to the factory, they are withered by approximately 60 percent.
Following this, the leaves are then rolled using minimal pressure for just 10-15 minutes. Once this task has been completed, the tea is placed in a drying chamber before it is sorted and packed. This is why, after such a brief period of oxidation, that the first flush takes such a greenish appearance.
Other Darjeeling Flushes
* The second flush is picked as early as April and runs through until May or sometimes even June. Here, the leaves are more mature and well-rounded with tastes reflecting slightly fruitier tones. Whilst not as valued as earlier harvests, Darjeeling Second Flush is said to be less astringent and makes an excellent afternoon tea.
* Descending into September, many plantations might harvest a ‘monsoon flush’, with heavy rainfall from July allowing moisture for the plants to thrive. These leaves might be processed into green tea in order to meet the growing demand while others will be used as Darjeeling Tea Bags. The leaves are plentiful but considered low quality, steeping a dark tea liquid and mild flavour.
* We then move onto the third flush – or sometimes known as the ‘Darjeeling Autumnal Flush’. This comes as the monsoon season ends in mid-September and tea plants resume growth until October and November, when they are harvested. The leaves produce a very dark leaf that steeps up a full-bodied and naturally fruity flavoured tea. Stronger than the Second Flush, many consumers may choose to have this Autumnal brew as a brisk breakfast get-me-up.
* On rare occasions, a winter flush might be attempted but as the tea plants often become dormant from December to February, the tea’s quality will likely suffer. This flush is very uncommon with many plantations avoiding it to ensure the plants are suitably looked after as they ‘sleep’, awaiting the repeated process the following year!
History of Darjeeling Tea
Famously described as ‘The Champagne of Teas’, Darjeeling’s history is almost as interesting as its taste. Most of the tea bushes found within the region owe their origin to Scottish adventurer and botanist, Robert Fortune, who “smuggled” many of the tea seeds from China almost 200 years ago.
These seeds were quick to thrive across the rich landscape and by the mid-19th Century, English traders turned to Darjeeling for much of their tea supply as British-Chinese tensions grew increasingly unsteady. Soon, Darjeeling was subjected to a rapid increase in exports and with it came the expansion of the entire region.
The mountains began to explode with new plantations and accompanying homes as word spread of the incredible opportunities found in Darjeeling. By 1866, 39 such plantations had already been established with 1,000 acres being used for the producing of approximately 133,000 lbs of tea each year.
Darjeeling had been in the procession of the British Empire since 1835, but after India obtained its independence in 1947, the ownership of most tea gardens transferred to Indian entrepreneurs.
20 years later however, the country experienced a political upheaval with communist parties seizing power in West Bengal. This brought about uncertain times for the plantations of Darjeeling as for the next 35 years, garden management and trade unions often clashed, causing serious problems for many tea gardens, with some even completely closing.
The official breakup of the USSR in 1991 – one of the region’s biggest buyers – also caused major setbacks as plantations struggled to make up for their losses.
Since these turbulent times however, Darjeeling has managed to recover with the region now boasting 87 gardens, spread over 17,500 hectares. It employs over 52,000 people, of which 60 percent are women. Despite all of its hardships, Darjeeling has maintained its good name, earning it the well-deserved respect of tea-growing regions across the world.
Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling Tea Estate
Growing its tea at an elevation of 4,300ft, Margaret’s Hope produces some of the finest Darjeeling First Flush Teas of the region. It is one of the preferred estates used by the Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company as we strive to supply only the best quality tea to our customers across the world.
This particular tea garden acquired its name in the 1920’s after its owner, overcome with grief at the death of his daughter, named the estate in her honour.
Margaret had been deeply attached to the sweeping hills and beautiful views found at the tea garden and had vowed to return as soon as she could. Unfortunately she contracted a lethal tropical disease on her journey back to England and subsequently succumbed to her illness.
It is now said her ghost peacefully wonders through the wild flowers and gushing streams of the area, allowing her the dream she could never fulfil.
Due to the high altitudes and relatively cool weather, the bushes found at Margaret’s Hope do not grow quickly, and as such, the production is limited. Despite this, the Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company will hopefully be once again selling the estate’s 2017 First Flush Tea in the very near future.
Health Benefits of Drinking Darjeeling Tea
The incredible health benefits found in Darjeeling Tea are not just limited to First Flush. In fact, when consuming almost any Darjeeling Tea alongside a healthy and active lifestyle, you can expect to see an improvement in Cardiovascular and dental health, reductions to Gastric ulcers, and even the potential of stronger bones!
Darjeeling Tea is also rich in antioxidants, including two large, complex compounds called theaflavins and thearubigins.
The power of these antioxidants enables the body to neutralise free radicals. These potentially harmful chemicals can form during digestion or in your organs when you are exposed to toxic compounds, but with the consumption of Darjeeling Tea, you have the ability to fight back!
Further to this, Scientific studies have indicated that drinking Darjeeling tea can also be an excellent weight-loss tool! This is once again due to the magic of antioxidants which can allow you to speed up your metabolism and burn off more fat!
Because Darjeeling tea contains few calories, its consumption can also be an excellent low-calorie alternative to beverages high in sugar and sodium.
In addition to promoting weight loss, research is ongoing to uncover whether Darjeeling tea can also reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes. So, whatever you are looking to get out of your morning cup, Darjeeling Tea can offer a multitude of different health benefits whilst delivering its iconic great taste!
View our Selection of Darjeeling Teas
Peaked your interest? Why not try from our wide selection of different Darjeeling Teas available online or through our store. Here at the Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, we pride ourselves on delivering only the finest quality Darjeeling Tea available on the market.