Tea grown in the Darjeeling region of India is among the most highly prized in the world. Some of the rarer blends can retail for up to $200 per kilogram! Small wonder, then, that Darjeeling tea is known as the “champagne of teas”. The variety of blends is simply stunning and this diversity, combined with the fact that the Darjeeling tea industry has its own special jargon, can make Darjeeling tea seem very intimidating for first-time drinkers. Here is a guide to this most complex of teas.
Darjeeling teas are characterized as first, second or third-flush depending on which time of the year they are harvested in. Teas harvested between March and May are first-flush and are characterized by their light color, fragrant floral flavors and hints of malty liquor. Teas harvested between late May and mid-August are second-flush. These are the darkest of all Darjeeling teas and are famed for their delicious muscatel grape flavor. Finally, teas harvested in October and November are third-flush, or “autumnal” Darjeeling teas. They have a rich, velvety mouthfeel, but are lighter in taste than second-flush teas.
Second-flush Darjeeling teas are the most unique because they are the only teas in the world that boast the rare muscatel grape flavor. The flavor is reminiscent of lychee and plum and leaves a wonderful aftertaste of caramel or honey. However, the first-flush teas tend to be the most expensive. As growing conditions between March and May are not quite as ideal as those during the second flush, first-flush tea harvests tend to be smaller. That, in turn, drives up the price.
Types of Darjeeling Tea
Most people think of Darjeeling tea as a black tea, but in reality, the Darjeeling region yields plenty of top-notch green, white and oolong teas as well. Particularly deserving of mention is Darjeeling oolong, which has the most concentrated muscatel flavor of any second-flush tea. It is difficult to grow as it typically has to be grown at altitudes between 3000 and 4000 meters above sea level and is priced to reflect this. Darjeeling white tea is also a great option if you’re looking for a mellow, refreshing tea, though it can be very difficult to find.
When buying Darjeeling tea, you should always make sure the tea has received the Darjeeling certification mark and logo. This ensures the tea you purchase was actually harvested in the Darjeeling region. Due to the tea’s popularity, manufacturers sometimes try to pass off inferior tea leaves as Darjeeling blends and this “Darjeeling piracy” is a big problem for the Indian tea industry. You can read more about Darjeeling piracy and view the approved Darjeeling certification logo on the World Intellectual Property Organization’s site.
Hopefully, you now feel more confident about exploring the world of Darjeeling tea. It truly is a tea like no other and getting to know it is well worth the effort.