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|Biological Name||Camellia Sinensis|
|Also referred as||The Champagne of Teas|
|Taste||Fruity, floral and stringent|
Tea from the Darjeeling region, especially Darjeeling, Kurseong and Mirik in West Bengal, India, has traditionally been prized above all other black teas. When properly brewed it yields a thin-bodied, light-colored liquor with a floral aroma. The flavor also displays a tinge of astringent tannic characteristics, and a musky spiciness often referred to by tea connoisseurs as "muscatel." A sweet cooling aftertaste should be felt in the mouth.
Most Darjeeling teas are made into black teas; however, Darjeeling Oolong and Green Teas are becoming more commonly produced and easier to find, and a growing number of estates are also producing white teas.
In 1840 Dr. Campbell was transferred from Kathmandu to Darjeeling and there started the experimental growth of tea. It was soon found that the plant throve readily at this altitude, and others began to follow Dr. Campbell's example, seed being distributed by Government to those who desired to cultivate the plant. Writing in 1852, Jackson says in his Report on Darjeeling1, "I have seen several plantations in various stages of advancement, both of the Assam and China plant and I have found the plants healthy and vigorous, showing that the soil is well adapted for the cultivation. In the garden of the Superintendent, Dr. Campbell, in Darjeeling, in the more extensive plantations of Dr. Withecombe, the Civil Surgeon and Major Crommelin, of the Engineers, in a lower valley called Lebong, the same satisfactory result has been obtained: the leaves, the blossom and the seeds are full and healthy; the reddish clay of the sides of the hill at Lebong seems to suit the plant better than the black loam of Darjeeling. This has been the result at and about Darjeeling itself, at a height of 7,000 feet; but the opinion of Dr. Hooker2 and of others competent to judge seems to be that there is too much moisture and too little sun at Darjeeling to admit of the cultivation on a large scale becoming remunerative: this objection, however, does not apply to the lower sites of Pankhabari, and Kurseong, where a plantation of both tea and coffee has been established by Mr. Martin, and the plants are now in a highly thriving condition. In this tract of country, between Morung and Darjeeling, every variety of elevation and aspect is to be found, and there seems to be little or no doubt that tea cultivation in that tract would answer."
Early Tea Gardens
These plantations appear to have been merely experimental plots, but by the year 1856 the industry began to be developed on an extensive scale, especially on the lower slopes, as it was believed that the elevation of Darjeeling was too high for the plants to be very productive. According to the account of a contemporary writer3, tea plants had been sown and raised by the end of that year at Takvar to the north by Captain Masson, at Kurseong by Mr. Smith, at the Canning and Hope Town plantations by the Companies attached to those locations, by Mr. Martin on the Kurseong flats, and by Captain Samler, the Agent of the Darjeeling Tea Concern, between Kurseong and Pankhabari. At the same time, Government endeavoured to supplement the efforts of these pioneers of the industry by distributing several maunds of tea-seed among the native cultivators. The writer doubted, however, whether the erratic disposition of the Lepcha4 would follow him to wait four years before he reaped the fruits of his labour; and the event has proved the correctness of his judgement.
The year 18565 may accordingly be taken as the date at which the industry was established as a commercial enterprise. In that year the Alubari tea garden was opened by the Kurseong and Darjeeling Tea Company, and another on the Lebong spur by the Darjeeling Land Mortgage Bank; in 1859 the Dhutaria garden was started by Dr. Brougham; and between 1860 and 1864 four gardens, at Ging, Ambutia, Takdah and Phubsering were established by the Darjeeling Tea Company, and the gardens at Takvar and Badamtam by the Lebong Tea Company. Other gardens which were started at this early period were those now known as the Makaibari, Pandam and Steinthal tea estates. All these estates are situated in the hills, but about this time the planters began to turn their attention to the Terai, where experimental plantations had already been started. here in 1862, the first garden was opened out at Champta, near Khaprail, by James White, who had previously planted out the Singel estate near Kurseong, which is still one of the largest gardens in the district. Others followed suit, and by the end of 1866 more gardens had been opened out in the Terai.
As a pre-requisite for domestic and international protection of Darjeeling as a certification trademark and a Geographical Indication, the Tea Board has formulated and put in place a comprehensive certification scheme wherein the definition of Darjeeling Tea has been formulated to mean tea that:
- is cultivated, grown or produced in the 87 tea gardens in the defined geographic areas and which have been registered with the Tea Board;
- has been cultivated, grown or produced in one of the said 87 tea gardens;
- has been processed and manufactured in a factory located in the defined geographic area; and
- when tested by expert tea tasters, is determined to have the distinctive and naturally occurring organoleptic characteristics of taste, aroma and mouth feel, typical of tea cultivated, grown and produced in the region of Darjeeling, India.
The certification scheme put in place by the Tea Board covers all stages from the production level to the export stage and meets the dual objective of ensuring that
- tea sold as Darjeeling Tea in India and worldwide is genuine Darjeeling Tea produced in the defined regions of the District of Darjeeling and meets the criteria laid down by the Tea Board and
- all sellers of genuine Darjeeling Tea are duly licensed. This licensing program affords the Tea Board the necessary information and control over the Darjeeling Tea industry to ensure that tea sold under the certification marks adheres to the standards for DARJEELING Tea as set forth by the Tea Board.
Thus, only 100% Darjeeling Tea is entitled to carry the DARJEELING logo.
Adulteration and falsification are serious problems in the global tea trade; the amount of tea sold as Darjeeling worldwide every year exceeds 40,000 tonnes, while the annual tea production of Darjeeling itself is estimated at only 10,000 tonnes, including local consumption. To combat this situation, the Tea Board of India administers the Darjeeling certification mark and logo. Protection of this tea designation is similar in scope to the protected designation of origin used by the EU for many european cheeses.
Darjeeling Tea cannot be grown or manufactured anywhere else in the world. Just as Champagne is indigenous to the Champagne district of France, so is Darjeeling Tea to Darjeeling.
Traditionally, Darjeeling teas are classified as a type of black tea. However, the modern Darjeeling style employs a hard wither (35-40 % remaining leaf weight after withering), which in turn causes an incomplete oxidation for many of the best teas of this designation, which technically makes them a form of oolong. Many Darjeeling teas also appear to be a blend of teas oxidized to levels of green, oolong, and black.
- 1st Flush is harvested in mid-March following spring rains, and has a gentle, very light color, aroma and mild astringency.
- In Between is harvested between the two "flush" periods.
- 2nd Flush is harvested in June and produces an amber, full bodied, muscatel-flavored cup.
- Monsoon or Rains tea is harvested in the monsoon (or rainy season) between 2nd Flush and Autumnal, is less withered, consequently more oxidized, and usually sold at lower prices. It is rarely exported, and often used in Masala chai.
- Autumnal Flush is harvested in the autumn after the rainy season, and has somewhat less delicate fla
vour and less spicy tones, but fuller body and darker colour.
How to prepare Darjeeling Tea
There is a rare charm in the taste of Darjeeling Tea which makes it irresistible. The fine wine of teas is ideally to be drunk from the finest porcelain. After all, these are the rarest and most prestigious of teas and are savoured worldwide. The delicate flavour of the tea can be savoured at its best sans milk and sugar.
Tea is a work of art and needs a master hand to bring out its noblest qualities. Here are a few steadfast guidelines to follow in order to achieve the perfect cup.
Fill the kettle or teapot with freshly drawn cold water (it must contain oxygen in order to bring out the full flavour of the tea). Tea Board of India recommends using fresh water because the quality of your water will directly affect the taste of your tea. When the water is near boiling point, pour a little into the teapot, swirl around, and tip away. This leaves a hot, clean teapot.
Measure the tea carefully into the pot, allowing one rounded teaspoon or one teabag for each cup required. Many people prefer to use a tea ball or filter to keep the leaves from spreading throughout the teapot. Bring the water to a rolling boil. Do not allow it to boil too long, as it will boil away some of the flavour-releasing oxygen and result in a flat cup of tea.
Pour the water onto the leaves or tea bags. This saturates the tea allowing the flavour to release naturally. Do not pour the water and then add the tea, this will only result in a poor cup of tea.
Darjeeling Tea can be enjoyed not just for its taste but because it is truly good for you. Rich in anti-oxidants, this amazing tea strengthens your immune system.
There are many tea estates (also call "tea gardens") in Darjeeling, each producing teas with different character in taste and aroma. Some of the popular estates include Arya, Chamong, Glenburn, Lingia, Castleton, Jungpana, Makaibari, Margaret's Hope, and Risheehat. Below is a non-exhaustive list:
- Happy Valley
- Kaley Valley
- Kanchan View
- Margaret's Hope
- Mission Hill
- Orange Valley
- Runglee Rungliot
- Singla Tea Estate
- Teesta Valley
- Tongsong Dtriah
- Upper Fagu
- Vah Tukvar