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Darjeeling: The “Champagne of Teas”

Darjeeling: An Introduction

If you are a tea lover by any means, chances are you’ve had a cup of Darjeeling tea. Many people are introduced to Darjeeling and other traditional teas in the form of a tea bag. We get it--tea bags are usually Americans' first exposure to tea, and there is no shame in that! However, a perfectly brewed cup of loose leaf Darjeeling is one of the tea world’s most exquisite pleasures--I would go out on a limb and say that it is unparalleled as a tea-drinking experience.
Darjeeling: The Region
In the tea industry, the arrival of the year’s first Darjeeling harvest is a highly anticipated occasion. Darjeeling is a district in the West Bengal state of India, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. There are just 87 tea estates in the region, and they produce multiple harvests (known as “flushes”) throughout the year.

While Darjeeling is often thought of as one particular type of black tea, the name applies to any tea grown in the region; tea grown in Darjeeling has regional distinction, much like Champagne. In fact, Darjeeling is known as the “Champagne of Teas.”

The Harvest Cycle
In a single season, tea estates in Darjeeling will produce a First Flush, a Second Flush, a Monsoon Flush, and an Autumn Flush, all varying wildly in terms of appearance and flavor. All leaves are picked from the same plants at different points in their harvest cycle. The first harvest of the season is picked in early spring, and is known the First Flush. Currently, we are right in the swing of First Flush season (my favorite time of year!).

Darjeeling First Flush consists of the youngest, most tender leaves and buds from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, and is world-renowned for its delicate, complex flavor. It is prized for its astringency, but its nuanced flavor profile often contains floral and muscatel notes, or hints of stonefruit. Each year, the First Flush is highly coveted by those in the tea industry, and its arrival is an anticipated event at tea shops and tea houses the world over.

While each flush has its own distinct flavor profile, each tea garden will also have particular characteristics associated with the teas they produce--this idea is known as terroir, the concept of “earth affects flavor.”

Similar to the wine industry, factors like soil content, altitude, and climate affect the taste of tea. With a tea as delicate and varying in flavor as Darjeeling, regional terroir plays an integral role in a harvest’s reception among the tea industry.
Darjeeling at TeBella Tea
Last year, we sourced our Darjeeling First Flush from Glenburn Estate, and our 2019 Darjeeling First Flush is from Upper Namring. Namring is a famed tea estate that consists of two tea gardens: Upper Namring and Lower Namring. Upper Namring is responsible for producing some of the region's most exquisite Darjeeling First Flush. Flavor profiles of Darjeeling vary from year to year, and this year's harvest is truly exceptional.

An aromatic and lively harvest, this year’s First Flush has a whisper of the tea’s characteristic astringency, complemented by invigoratingly sweet notes of grape and fig. A fresh, crisp mouthfeel, with notes of honeysuckle in the finish. It calls to mind the still, cool air of a dewy spring morning.

Where a Darjeeling First Flush is harvested in the spring, the second flush is harvested later in the season, in June, and has a vastly different flavor profile. This tea is full-bodied and prized for its muscatel notes. It yields a darker and bolder brew than a delicate first flush Darjeeling, and is a perennial favorite at afternoon tea services.

Our 2018 Darjeeling Second Flush, which we call Thunderbolt Darjeeling, comes from the Phuguri Estate, and has the rare distinction of being 100% Organic. Phuguri Estate is a tea garden located outside Mirik, and produces an exquisite cup of tea. This orthodox Darjeeling has an overtly pronounced muscatel grape note, characteristic of a Second Flush Darjeeling, but also yields notes of honey, cinnamon, and star anise. A light maltiness gives way to a robust, woody finish.
On a personal note, Darjeeling First Flush happens to be my very favorite tea. It was the only tea I drank throughout my childhood and well into my college years, before I was moved to expand my tea horizons. For me, Darjeeling is comfort. It is warm, vibrant, and soothing; each cup is like reuniting with an old friend. And while a Darjeeling Second Flush with a dash of milk is a perfectly good cup of tea, I find little more satisfying than a cup of Darjeeling First Flush.

If you are interested in reading more about Darjeeling, we recommend the book Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World's Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler.

And if this blog post at all piqued your interest, you simply must try a cup of the 2019 Darjeeling First Flush. I live to spread the good word about my favorite tea!

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