Behind the Leaf: Darjeeling Tea

darjelingEvery time I sip a Darjeeling tea, I can see the green trees shrouded in mist with a view of the Himalayan Mountains. Darjeeling is one of my most favorite teas. It tastes unlike any other. Did you know Darjeeling tea plants are mostly Chinese? The Chinese seeds were brought to this Indian region by the British in the mid-1800s.

While Darjeeling teas can be processed as any type, I’m going to focus on what is considered black tea. Darjeeling is considered a black tea although it’s not quite as oxidized as most black teas you are familiar with. It’s a bit more similar to oolong. The tea has delicate, nuanced flavor with floral, citrus, and musk notes.

This tea is called the ‘Champagne of teas’ because of the grapey muscatel flavor. This flavor gets its name from muscat grapes. That Darjeeling muscatel comes from the land it is grown on, its climate, and can only be found in teas from this region. Also like Champagne, a tea cannot be called Darjeeling unless it’s from the area.

The flavor of Darjeeling teas depends on when it’s picked during the year. I love that you can basically taste the season in a cup of tea! The various seasons of growth and harvest are called flushes- a flush is the period when the trees develop new leaves and are harvested. The tea will taste quite different depending on the flush.

The first flush happens after the spring rains. This is usually in late February through April. These leaves picked in the spring have delicate, floral and grassy notes along with some astringency.  The leaves have a greener hue to them, and smell quite fresh. These leaves are closer to oolong than the other flushes.

Second flush leaves are picked in late May and June. These leaves have a more robust, with strong muscatel notes with sweetness and nuts. There is a little bit of astringency as well. It is not nearly as delicate as the first flush.

Monsoon flush- this growth occurs from the heavy rains in July and august. These leaves have a stronger flavor and fewer nuances due to the large amounts of water absorbed by the plants. This is usually considered a lower quality tea, and can often be found in tea blends.

Autumn Flush- this harvest happens in late October and November. These leaves are larger and much less delicate than a first or second flush. The brew is dark but nutty, sweet, and woodsy. It has a lighter body than the monsoon flush, and can also often be found in blends.

You can prepare this tea in a gaiwan or a traditional teapot. Whatever you use, just make sure you have enough room for those big, beautiful leaves to expand. You should seek out single estate Darjeeling teas instead of blends if possible, to get a taste of the true flavor. Start with a first flush tea and get to know the flavors. You should then move on through the flushes and see what you like best! Or, do as Kat and I do, and love them all!

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