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.