Darjeeling Tea – A World-Renown Black Tea
The French have their champagne, and India has Darjeeling tea! Based in the province of the same name, Darjeeling tea is a world-renown black tea that is treasured for its light and delicate spiciness, called “muscatel” by the tea industry.
The province of West Bengal is the location of the mountain town of Darjeeling, located in the eastern third portion of India, where the country wraps around the smaller nation of Bangaladesh on the west, north and east. Next to the western side of Bangaladesh, and stretching from the Indian Ocean in the south to the Himalayan Mountains in the north, lie the borders of the province.
The Himalayas are the source of the special qualities of Darjeeling tea, because tea trees grown at higher elevations are generally considered to produce superior leaves that those grown near to sea level.
In 1839, a Dr. Archibald Campbell arrived in Darjeeling, ostensibly to serve in the Indian Medical Service. In 1841, he obtained some seeds of Chinese tea trees (illegally, according to many Chinese writers on the topic) from the Indian province to the northwest, Kumaun.
These were not the large-leaved Camilla Sinsensis Assamica species of tree native to India, but the short-leaved Camilla Sinsensis Sinsensis variety found throughout China. He then began to run experimental plantings of these trees in the hills and mountains around the city of Darjeeling, almost certainly inspired by the similarity of the Himalayan foothills to the mountainous terrain around Yunan, the home of China’s indigenous tea trees and earliest cultivation. Of course, the plantings were a tremendous success, and Darjeeling tea was born. By the 1850’s, commercial development was fully underway.
The British were able to establish several dozens of plantations near Darjeeling. These farms produce about 10.000 tons of Darjeeling tea annually. However, about 40,000 tons of tea are labeled as Darjeeling, and that obviously doesn’t add up! To combat frauds of Darjeeling and other teas, India create the India Tea Board in 1953 to certify and grade the teas all over the nation. Darjeeling tea now should always have a certification mark and logo, as designated by the Tea Board.
While Darjeeling tea is treated as a black tea, it undergoes a stage of processing called a “hard wither,” and this technically makes it an oolong tea! This technicality has become old news however, as the taste for variety has swept the world in recent decades, and now many tea estates (called gardens, in the district around Darjeeling city) are producing green tea , completely correct oolong tea and even white teas.
Each estate is known for a unique flavor of tea created by its soils and weather, and they generally take five harvestings of Darjeeling tea leaves each year. The harvestings are called labeled “1st flush,” “In Between,” 2nd Flush,” “Monsoon,” and “Autumnal Flush.” The 2nd Flush is considered the best for strong muscatel flavor, while the Monsoon Flush is deemed inferior and rarely exported.
The estates are incredibly picturesque, situated as they are in the beautiful Himalayan foothills, and featuring terraces that extended along the mountain and hillsides for miles.