A Guide to Darjeeling Tea
Darjeeling teas are some the most sought after teas in the world and are often called the Champagne of tea. In the nineteenth century, the reputation of Darjeeling tea in England became firmly established as a ‘fancy tea’.
Darjeeling is a mountainous area located west of the Assam region in the northern state of West Bengal. It is truly the ‘Kingdom in the Sky’, blessed with a lofty Himalayan environment and outstanding terroir that produces tea unlike any other on the planet.
Here, variations in climate bring long cold winters, cool and breezy summers months, and late summer monsoon rains. The geography and climate provide a well-balanced set of growing conditions for superb high quality teas.
The Darjeeling is comprised of eighty-seven tea gardens spread over seven valleys of what is collectively known as ‘the hill’. The tea estates are set up in higher altitudes between 800 - 2200m above sea level. As the elevation climbs, the cool, thin air slows leaf growth, yielding smaller tea leaves. This slower maturation concentrates the flavour in the leaves, giving these teas a well-defined, precise taste profile.
Due to the high elevation and steep grade, tea gardens here are not as large as those planted at lower elevations. This results in smaller annual harvests of this exquisite tea. Accordingly, the price of fine Darjeeling tea is high, as worldwide demand has never reduced for pure, unblended Darjeeling tea. The higher a garden is placed the more delicate and aromatic and therefore more expensive its teas will be.
Darjeeling produces three annual crops: the very sought after First Flush, followed by the deeply aromatic Second Flush teas and the more subtle Autumnals.
From March to May - First flush Darjeeling teas are harvested. Teas such as the First Flush Spring Darjeeling Organic and the First Flush Darjeeling Badamtam, are produced from the youngest, most succulent shoots of the tea-growing season. They are delicate in colour, have a delightfully flowery fragrance and fresh taste.
From June - July - Second flush Darjeeling’s are picked. As the shrubs have had more exposure to sunlight, their flavour is more intense and full-bodied, and their colour a warm golden-amber. The Second Flush Darjeeling Summer Gold Organic and the Second Flush Darjeeling Margaret's Hope are fine examples of all that a second flush Darjeeling has to offer.
From October to November - after several periods of rain during late summer the leaves are harvested for autumnal Darjeeling teas.
How is Darjeeling Tea Produced
The first step in the production of Darjeeling tea is the plucking of the tea leaves. Once the worker’s baskets are filled with the tiny buds, they are brought back to the factory where the 5-step production process begins. These steps include: Withering, rolling, fermentation, drying and sorting & packing.
- Withering: The tea leaves need to be partially dry and so the withering process is a way to remove a certain percentage of the moisture within the leaf. Air is blown over the leaves to dry them out over a period of 14-16 hours.
- Rolling: Once withering has commenced, the leaves are taken to mechanical rollers which twist them and essentially remove any leftover moisture. This step is carefully monitored to ensure that leaves are of top quality and don’t overheat or break.
- Fermentation: Kept on trays in a cool, humid environment, the leaves are left to ferment. Depending on the temperature, this process can take up to 4 hours. It is at this stage that the well-known and popular flavour and scent of Darjeeling tea starts to develop. It is essential that the fermentation process is carried out correctly as any mistakes can affect the quality and taste of the tea.
- Drying: After the fermentation process has finished it is time for the tea leaves to be dried completely. The leaves are taken to a dryer where they are subjected to 20 – 30 minutes of 115°C-120°C temperatures until they are free of moisture and ready to be sorted and eventually stored.
- Sorting & Packing: In this stage, the tea leaves are mechanically graded by size and finally packed.
History of Darjeeling Tea
Considered the founding father of Darjeeling tea, Dr. Campbell is where the history of the tea begins. In 1839, he was transferred to Darjeeling and, by 1841, had planted Camellia sinesis seeds (from which Darjeeling tea leaves originate from) – The tea grew so successful in his garden that the government decided to grant the first tea nurseries in the area.
The tea rapidly gained in popularity and by 1866 there were 39 tea plantations producing 133,000lbs of tea. This number only tripled within the next ten years.
The British first entered the Darjeeling area in 1820 but before that strong political forces surrounding the land, such as Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, all had control at different points in history. By 1835 the Brits had taken control for themselves. When they left in 1947, the tea gardens were transferred to the possession of Indian entrepreneurs.
Today Darjeeling tea is known as the “Champagne of teas” and is well known for its unique flavour and high quality.
First Flush Darjeeling’s vs Second Flush Darjeeling’s
Set against the spectacular backdrop of the Himalayas, Darjeeling is one of the most famous tea-growing regions in India.
Each year, the arrival of spring heralds the prized first flush: the first new shoots of the season, which produce some of the most flowery, fragrant and delicate tasting teas.
Harvested slightly later towards the summer months, second flush Darjeeling’s boast a more intense, full-bodied and muscatel like flavour than their first flush predecessors. Add to this a warm, golden-amber colour and mellow aroma, and the result is a tea that is simply delightful.
HOW TO BREW Darjeeling Tea
Grown in only one region of the world, Darjeeling tea is something special and not to be missed! Whether you want to use the loose leaves or try a tea bag infusion, the standard process is the same.
The standard process is as follows:
- Boil some fresh cold water
- Place the tea leaves in a tea strainer
- Pour the hot water over the leaves
- Steep the tea for the appropriate amount of time
- Strain the tea
- Sweeten the tea to taste (Darjeeling tea should be taken without milk)
- Sit back and enjoy!
Ranging from 1 levelled teaspoon to 1 slightly heaped teaspoon
A range of colours including: Pale Yellow, Golden Yellow, Red Golden & Light Brown
NOTE: Please make sure to read the individual brewing instructions on each package of tea.
Our top recommendations are:
- Ronnefeldt Darjeeling Badamtam First Flush Organic - This particular Darjeeling is a premium First Flush with a memorable fresh, flowery taste, and a delicacy that only a Spring harvest can bring.
- Ronnefeldt Darjeeling Finest Namring - An excellent aromatic black tea from the famous Namring garden in the highlands of Darjeeling.
- Ronnefeldt Darjeeling Margaret’s Hope Second Flush - A lovely soft Darjeeling with a strong body and fruity, aromatic muscatel notes. It becomes a firm favourite of everyone who tries it.
- Ronnefeldt Summer Gold Organic - An elegant flowery black tea with a delicious muscatel flavour. This is a summer picked tea for connoisseurs who like it a little more full-bodied.