Sunset at the Sournee Estate in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India.
This post is to kick off our Darjeeling Days Sale at TeaSource both online and in-store; 20% off any Darjeeling tea for the entire month of March. Over the next few blog posts we’ll look at some of the stories, sights, people and FAQ’s of Darjeeling teas.
What is Darjeeling tea?
Typically “Darjeeling tea” refers to a black tea, light to medium bodied, with slight fruity and floral notes, and perhaps a touch of briskness. The steeped liquor usually appears light golden to a darker bronze color with a strong slightly fruity aroma. It is often considered one of the finest teas in the world.
Having a first flush tea (produced that day) at the Giddapahar Estate. Note the very light golden color.
Enjoying another first flush tea, the next day, at the Manager’s Cottage at the Goomtee Estate (different elevation and different mountainside in Darjeeling). Note the darker bronze color.
Cupping another first flush Darjeeling tea at the Rohini Estate. Note the darker color still. Rohini is one of the lowest elevation Darjeeling Estates, which along with the broken leaf style may partially account for the darker cup.
For a tea to be called Darjeeling, it needs to come from the Darjeeling district, state of West Bengal, India. “Darjeeling Tea” is a legally protected geographical designation for teas grown and manufactured in this very specifically defined region “Darjeeling.” This situation is similar to the designation given “Champagne” which is a sparkling wine grown in the Champagne region of France. Sparkling wines grown in other regions of the world cannot be called Champagne.
What is Darjeeling, not the tea, but Darjeeling itself?
Most of the tea producing regions of India—Darjeeling is pretty tiny.
Darjeeling is a small, I mean really small, region in Northern India (actually kind of northeast India).
The Darjeeling District is about 288 sq. miles.
Hennepin County, Minnesota is about 600 sq. miles.
Rhode Island is about 1212 sq. miles.
The Darjeeling district in detail.
The word Darjeeling translates as “Thunderbolt Place.” Darjeeling is very close to Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Assam, and Tibet. It is part of the foothills of the Himalayas.
Is Darjeeling tea rare?
Approximately 10,000 tons of Darjeeling tea are produced each year from the official Darjeeling region. Approximately 40,000 tons of tea are sold each year as Darjeeling. So at least 30,000 of those 40,000 tons are counterfeit. These counterfeit teas aren’t grown in Darjeeling. They may come from Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, Bihar Province, other parts of the state of West Bengal outside Darjeeling, and God only knows from where else.
10,000 tons of tea sounds like a lot, but not really. Each year the Assam region of India produces about 680,000 tons of tea.
So Darjeeling teas, relatively speaking, are pretty rare, prized, and they can get crazily expensive.
Why are Darjeeling teas special?
They are the highest elevation produced teas in the world. This higher elevation creates a different environment for the tea plant; different temperature ranges in the day and evening, different oxygen content in the atmosphere, different UV (ultraviolet ray) exposure for the plant, and many other differences. All these differences produce a different leaf and a unique flavor and aroma in the cup.
Tea fields along the mountain side at the Margaret’s Hope Estate.
Darjeeling teas are also 100% hand-cultivated and produced; with a tremendous level of care, experience, and expertise in the cultivation, handling, and manufacture of these teas.
What is the best way to prepare Darjeeling tea?
It’s a black tea; so many people would say use boiling water and steep 3-5 minutes. This is how I made my Darjeeling tea for many years; until I was shown a way that I’ve come to prefer; using slightly less than boiling water and steeping for 2-3 minutes. This cup will be a little bit less astringent, maybe a little bit more sweet or fruity, but with a little less body. Experiment, have fun with different preparation techniques—it’s tea, not the holy grail.
My breakfast pot of Darjeeling at the Best Western Hotel in the town of Darjeeling.
Yes, there really is a Best Western in Darjeeling.
We’ll do a number of blog posts the rest of this month; getting into more detail about Darjeeling and its wonderful teas.