Behind The Leaf: Indian Black Teas

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India is known for some of the most delicious black teas. I’m sure you’ve had many of them in blends and didn’t even know it! They can be bold and brisk, or delicate and nuanced. India is also starting to produce white, green, and oolong teas, but for today we’re going to stick with the black teas that grow all throughout the country.

There are three main growing regions in India: Assam, Nilgiri Hills, and Darjeeling. These three areas make delicious black teas that taste very different from one another. That’s due to terroir. The climate, altitude and soil all have an effect on the flavors. Also the plant cultivars used also change the flavor.

First up, let’s discuss Assam- This region is in Northeast India near Burma. It is a tropical region that has about 900 gardens! The elevation is about sea level, and the weather is mild and can get very hot during monsoon season. Much of the tea grown in this region is processed as CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea. Small cut leaves that create an even stronger brew that steeps up quite quickly. The cultivar that grows here is camellia sinensis var. assamica and was of course named after the region. The tea is brisk and malty. It can commonly be found in English Breakfast and English Afternoon blends. It’s made to steep up strong, as the Brits like to add milk and sweetener to their cups. This is also a tea commonly used for Masala chai.

Nilgiri is a mountainous region of southeast India and the 3rd largest tea growing area. Growing here started in the mid-19th century. The teas are well balanced and quite dark with a bit of fruit and spice. The climate is tropical and ideal for year-round growing. Many of the plants here are of the Assamica variety, and most of the teas are processed using the CTC method. Can you believe there are more than 30,000 gardens in this area?? That’s an immense amount of tea!

Finally the area most tea lovers know, Darjeeling. Teas here are grown in the Indian Himalayas. The first plantation in Darjeeling was started in 1856, and today there are about 86 tea gardens. The gardens are planted on the slopes of the Himalayan foothills, which help the plants drain well from the heavy rains that pass through the region.  There is just the right amount of cloud cover high at this altitude to give the plants the perfect amount of sunlight. The frequently foggy atmosphere creates a beautiful mist that hydrates and protects the plants while keeping them at an ideal temperature. The plant variety here is different from Nilgiri and Assam. It’s mostly comprised of camellia sinensis var sinensis, which is a smaller leaf than Assamica and actually is native to China. The British brought seeds of the plant to the region in 1841 and realized it was a perfect climate for growing. To learn a little more about the picking seasons and flavors of Darjeeling teas, you can check out my previous post here. To really appreciate the beauty of Darjeeling tea, it’s best to find teas grown and processed from just one estate.

Dearies, next time you drink a black tea blend, you can think about all of the beautiful areas of India where your tea is grown. I hope you try as many varieties as you can to learn how they differ.

Teas To Welcome Spring

SpringTeas

Dearies, I’m just so tired of this cold weather, aren’t you? Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more of it, I noticed a few green shoots sprouting in the garden! Spring is ready to burst forth, and I can barely wait another minute! I’ve decided to round up a few lovely floral teas to properly welcome springtime. What could be better than looking at the budding flowers while sipping on a lovely floral tea? Bring a bouquet into your cup and the winter weather will feel lightyears away.

Jasmine tea is a perfect choice to melt away the frost. The sweet, delicate jasmine combined with grassy green tea will bring you right to a sunny meadow with the dainty white flowers. Close your eyes, breathe in the intoxicating floral aroma. You’ll feel as good as new!

Rose teas are also a wonderful choice. I adore Kat’s rose garden and the scent always uplifts. Sometimes she’ll set a little table in front of her trellis of roses and we’ll enjoy tea in the sunshine. A sip of rose tea will make you feel like you’re right in the garden.  I enjoy green teas scented with rose, and you can often find teas with the rose petals mixed right in. It’s beautiful to look at and to drink. It would also work well as a potpourri. I’ve also seen rose as a tisane, all on its own.

SpringTeaDorset

Chamomile is a springtime favorite for Kat. She has many different chamomile choices in her cupboard, and her newest favorite is called Cool Chamomile from British company Dorset Tea. Kat’s friend Jocelyn moved to England a few years ago and always sends her teas she can’t find in the states. This chamomile from Dorset is one of Jocelyn’s favorites and now Kat is obsessed with it as well. The soothing sweet chamomile is accented with tangy raspberry and lemongrass for a unique and delicious tea. The lemongrass makes me think of those bright green early spring shoots that are sprouting up all over the garden. This combination is bright, yet relaxing. Kat often has this tea in the evening since it’s herbal and won’t keep her awake. She also has been making it iced, as a refreshing sunny sip to keep those winter blues away. It’s the perfect tea to welcome spring!

 Springtime is also when the new harvests of teas start to arrive at your favorite tea shop. Be sure to ask for the spring green, oolong, white, and first flush Darjeeling teas. They will be fresh and vibrant, and perfect for your cup.

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!

New Year’s Eve Tea Cocktails!

NYE cocktails

Dearies, what are your New Years Eve plans? Whether you have a quiet night at home or a big soiree with all of your friends, you can still create special celebratory moments that feel personal and meaningful. Kat’s going to have a small group of friends over, and she’s planning on serving a few select tea cocktails along with some decadent nibbles.

On New Years Eve, it’s important to bring out the bubbly! Use champagne, sparkling wine, or sparkling cider to add your bubbles. With a bit of sparkly fizz, you’ll create a classic convivial spirit to your evening.

For a bright, jasmine scented drink, add a bit of jasmine tea to your bubbly cocktail. A great way to add strong tea flavor to your drink is to infuse vodka with tea. Vodka is a very neutral flavor on its own, and works very well as a base for your tea.

To make jasmine tea infused vodka:

Use a clean bottle with a stopper at the top. A bottle that holds most of a 750ml bottle of vodka will work perfectly.

Add about 6 teabags to the bottle, shake gently and let it infuse for a few hours, or even overnight. Try not to let it sit more than 12 hours, the brew can get a bit bitter.

Once your jasmine vodka is ready, add about 2 tablespoons to a champagne flute or coupe, and top off with your bubbly of choice. A dash of elderflower liquor would make a lovely nuanced addition, but isn’t necessary.

If Jasmine tea isn’t to your liking, you can use any kind of tea you wish. The options are endless.

Adding a bit of Darjeeling, the ‘champagne of teas’ to your drink will create a cocktail fit for royalty. Kat is eager to try this Darjeeling gimlet for an old-fashioned twist to her New Year’s Eve. It’ll give a classic ‘Great Gatsby’ air to your soiree. It’s especially fun if you have a 1920s theme to your party.

Or for another classic cocktail with a tea twist, how about a matcha gimlet? Your matcha-loving friends are going to adore it!

Whatever your drink choice, I hope you all have a fun, festive New Year’s Eve! What drinks are you planning on serving?