Darjeeling tea isn’t known as the champagne of tea for nothing -it’s light and sweet. What’s unique about Darjeeling tea is that depending on the time of year it’s grown and cut it could be considered either a black, green, white, or oolong tea. In order for it to be considered Darjeeling tea it must grow in the Darjeeling region in West Bengal, India.
What Makes it Unique?
The common tea plant is grown and harvested all year long, but it goes through patterns of growth and also times of not growing many new leaves. Each pattern and season is called a flush. These flushes begin when new leaves grow in and end when they are cut off. Only the top few leaves are cut with each harvest.
There are three major flushes that get shipped around the world, and two minor ones that are rarely produced to the mass market.
Some of these are also fermented, such as Darjeeling black tea, which is fully fermented. Oolong teas are only partially fermented, and green Darjeeling teas are not fermented. The fermentation process happens when the harvested and dried leaves are exposed to oxygen for a certain amount of time (until desired black, green, etc.), and the flavanols in the tea are mixed with oxygen.
Elevation Changes Flavor
This tea is also rare, because of its Geographical Indication trademark, which means it must be grown in Darjeeling for the tea to be named Darjeeling tea. This location is known to add to this amazing tea leave’s flavor due to its elevation. Darjeeling is located around the foothills of the Himalayan mountains -such a unique place -and it’s said this elevation is why it gets that sweet, grape aroma and flavor.
Most of these farms don’t use machines to cultivate either; which means most of the plants are hand grown and harvested for all these many years (since around 1841).
The Different Types
The first flush is when the leaves are at their freshest and sweetest. After winter dormancy their harvest is from the spring, mid-March to May. This all depends on the weather in Darjeeling, of course, because too much rain after this period may cause a shorter time for the second flush to grow to harvest.
The second flush takes place in the summer following a minor flush after the first, and lasts until August. Compared to the first, it’s darker in color with a strong musk grape flavor.
The third flush results in another dark brew, but the leaves are much larger by this time. It’s known as the autumn flush, and takes place during October and November.
In September, during the rain and monsoon season, that’s when a minor flush takes place, and this tea has minor flavor and color due to this rain. It’s usually used in masala chai tea mixtures, but along with the second minor flush these two aren’t shipped out often. The second minor flush takes place two weeks before the first and second major flushes.
Upon tasting, one would notice that Darjeeling tea is less bitter than other teas, and much lighter. In comparison to green tea, it has many more layers of flavor that wash all over the tongue. Tea lovers have called the taste of some mossy, with notes of citrus, delicate floras, and fruity. Its most loved flavor is the deep muscat grape flavor of the second flush.
The weather and flush system impact the leaves and flavor so much that there is a rating rank for them. The size and quality of the leaves are separated and graded into four categories: whole tea leaves, the highest quality; broken leaves; fannings, which are smaller bits used for tea bags; and dust, the lowest quality and considered tea waste.
How and When to Enjoy Darjeeling
Darjeeling tea may be much lighter on the stomach than coffee or other strong black teas, but still may not be recommended to enjoy on an empty stomach. Also, depending on the flush or type of Darjeeling chosen, it may be too high in caffeine to have late in the evening. This tea is perfect with breakfast, lunch, or a small meal.
To brew: take 1 tbsp of tea leaves into a warm pot of water boiled between 195 degrees Fahrenheit and 205 degrees. It’s best warmed, so after it’s boiled let sit for one or two minutes. Let the leaves steep for up to three minutes. Drink immediately after brewing or keep in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
A high quality Darjeeling tea could be brewed and steeped twice, but the first brew will most likely have the best and sweetest flavor. If steeping for a second time, allow up to three to five minutes for the leaves to exude more flavor.
Many tea lovers would suggest not using milk, sugar, lemon or any additives, but of course add what’s best. This is most common, because the tea has such a rare and beautiful taste that some milks and sweeteners would destroy it.
Since Darjeeling tea’s caffeine content varies on the flush, it’s good to keep in mind that it has less caffeine than coffee, but more caffeine than green tea. Typically, in an 8 oz portion, there’ll be around 50 mg of caffeine, and up to 200 mg in coffee.
There are little to no calories or carbohydrates in a cup of Darjeeling tea.
How to Store
Darjeeling teas are best stored in an airtight container, because they’ll lose their fragrant scent. The tea can be purchased in tea bags or loose, and will be best within two years of purchase. Keep in a dry area away from humidity, strong smells, heat, and sun, because it’s sensitive. This tea will keep in the pantry for a long time, so it’s all about making that cup last.