Posted in Kafevend Blog
Well here we are in the midst of the Wimbledon fortnight and anyone lucky enough to be heading to the All England Club can expect to be tempted by such upmarket fare as Champagne or Pimms, alongside the obligatory strawberries and cream of course. This set us off on one of our typically tangential thoughts about the tea that is widely heralded as the champagne of teas - we refer to Darjeeling. What is it about Darjeeling that makes it a cut above other Indian teas in the opinion of so many?
Just as Champagne can only be labelled as such if it's been produced in the Champagne region of north east France from the grapes that have been grown there, so too for tea to be labelled Darjeeling it must have been grown and produced in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal in India. The area in question is part of the Himalayan foothills and includes plenty of peaks that would qualify as fully fledged mountains here in the UK, so we can safely say that Darjeeling tea is grown at altitude with all the benefits that cultivation on an elevated terroir brings. The world's third highest peak, Mount Kanchenjunga, looms over the region, which is home to some seventy eight different tea estates situated between 2,000 and 6,500 feet above sea level.
It was during the 1840s that tea was initially planted in the area by a surgeon named Dr. Arthur Campbell who, along with others, was part of the push to break China's monopoly on the tea trade by securing an alternative supply of tea for Britain. In those days Darjeeling was a popular destination with the British colonial fraternity when they were looking for a place to get away from the heat and bustle of Calcutta and before long it had also become a top venue for tea estates.
It's only for about three or four months during the winter that the plants lie dormant. The rest of the year produces several flushes during which the tea is picked by hand to ensure premium quality. The different flushes result in quite different taste profiles:
-The first flush appears with the arrival of spring from mid March to April. The leaves are small and produce a light coloured infusion with an underlying floral flavour.
-The second flush is harvested around now in June and results in a more full bodied brew. This is the flush most associated with the muscatel notes that Darjeeling is famed for.
-The third flush, also known as the monsoon flush is stronger still. Generally gathered in from the middle of July and on into September, coinciding as its name suggests with the rainy season, it tends to be used for breakfast blends.
-Finally, there's a further flush in the autumn which has a distinct flavour of its own. So if you've heard people wax lyrical about Darjeeling tea and can't understand what all the fuss is about, it's possible you haven't tasted the same variety as they have. It's worth noting too that Darjeeling is processed as green, white and oolong as well as black tea. With all that choice we're all bound to find a favourite!