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darjeeling the champagne of teas

Lately, I've had lots of people ask me about Darjeeling tea, and particularly "why is Darjeeling the Champagne of Teas?". Just as Champagne is a unique, sparkling beverage from the Champagne region in France, so Darjeeling tea is a distinctive, high-quality tea from the Darjeeling region in India.

So, let's steep ourselves a bit in the history and make of this extraordinary tea, shall we?

Fun Fact: In 2004, Darjeeling tea became the first Indian product to receive a Geographical Indication (GI) status. This means that tea can only be labelled as Darjeeling if it's produced, processed, and manufactured in the specified region and maintains its distinct quality.

wHere is darjeeling?

Darjeeling on a map (Google Images)

Darjeeling is a town and a hill station in the Indian state of West Bengal, located in the foothills of the Himalayas. The cool and moist climate, the soil, the rainfall, and the sloping terrain all combine to give Darjeeling tea its unique "muscatel" flavour, which isn’t found in any other tea.

It was around the mid-19th century when the British set up tea plantations in Darjeeling, using seeds from China. As the tea grew and adapted to its new home, it evolved into a brew with an entirely unique personality. Over time, Darjeeling tea became highly sought after, and its price began to rise, making it one of the most expensive teas globally.

Darjeeling tea is characteristically light, clear, and bright, with a delicate aroma. It offers an orchid-like fragrance and an inviting floral bouquet to the palate. It's this exotic flavour profile that sets it leagues apart from other teas and is one of the main reasons why Darjeeling tea is more expensive than regular teas.

Not all tea from northern India can be called Darjeeling though. Just as Champagne can only be classified as such if it comes from the Champagne region, only the tea that comes from the 87 tea gardens of Darjeeling, spread across seven thousand hectares, can be labelled as Darjeeling Tea. This exclusivity also adds to the price tag of this luxurious beverage.

What is darjeeling tea like?

Darjeeling tea flower

What further differentiates Darjeeling tea is the concept of "flushes." In tea-speak, a flush refers to the time of year when new leaves sprout on the tea plant. Darjeeling experiences two main flushes – the first or 'spring' flush, and the second or 'summer' flush.

First flush Darjeeling tea, harvested after the spring rains, is highly prized for its light, floral, fresh, and bright flavours. It emits a lovely aroma that rejuvenates, reminding us of spring's freshness.

The second flush is harvested in the summer and boasts a fuller body compared to the first. It develops the unique ‘muscatel’ flavour - a sweet and spicy character that Darjeeling tea is renowned for. Some tea connoisseurs consider second flush Darjeeling to be the highest achievement of a black tea. We have an absolutely delightful second flush Darjeeling from the Margaret's Hope Estate in our store...

Autumnal and winter flushes also occur. However, despite holding their own in the flavour-stakes, these flushes are not as highly prized. I have a very popular Darjeeling Autumnal in our store's range. All flushes, regardless of their time of year, lend the tea a variation in depth, flavour and character which further enhances the allure of Darjeeling tea.

how to brew darjeeling tea

Darjeeling tea leaves loose

Now that you know about the origins and unique qualities, let's address another intriguing question, "How to brew Darjeeling tea?"

Quality matters if you want to brew the perfect cup of Darjeeling. First, start off with pure, cold water. Bring the water to a boil, but unlike with most black teas, don’t pour boiling water over Darjeeling leaves.

Let the water cool for about a minute after boiling. The temperature should be around 85-90°C. Over-steeping or using water that is too hot can result in a bitter taste.

Add one teaspoon of tea leaves per standard cup into a teapot. Then pour in the hot water and let the tea steep for about 3 minutes. Darjeeling is best enjoyed without milk or sweeteners to truly savour its unique flavours.

Then, to fully appreciate and unpack the distinct flavours, take a moment to inhale the aroma, sip consciously, and allow the tea to roll over different parts of your tongue. This method ensures that you identify different flavour notes of the tea.

Enjoy Darjeeling the champagne of teas

Darjeeling tea plantation

From the planting to the picking and processing, producing Darjeeling tea is an intricate process that requires great care and precision. Leaf picking is still mainly done by hand to maintain the high-quality standards reflective of its price.

The exacting standards, quality control measures, unique characteristics, limited availability, and the degree of hand processing are just some of the reasons why Darjeeling is an expensive tea. The price truly reflects the care, skill, and passion that's been put into creating this exquisite tea.

With its rich history, unique flavour profile, and strict production standards, Darjeeling has aptly earned its title as the "Champagne of Teas". It's a beloved indulgence for tea connoisseurs and a testament to the unique magic that can occur when human cultivation meets the ideal natural conditions.

So next time you're sipping on a cup of this golden brew, you'll know the passion and precision that went into making it. With its top-tier status and unparalleled quality, it's not just a tea; it's a luxurious experience that more than justifies its cost.

Just like Champagne, Darjeeling tea is a celebration in a cup. Its unique flavours create a special moment, a moment to sit back, relax, and take pleasure in a tea that boasts a venerable history and refined taste.

Now that we've journeyed through the fascinating world of Darjeeling tea together, I can’t imagine a better way to end this than to find a quiet, cosy spot; Brew a cup of Darjeeling tea, and as it gently steams, let its rich aroma spill around us. As we gently sip and savour our Darjeeling the Champagne of Teas, I'll raise a cup to the great traditions and skill that bring this phenomenal blend to our homes.

After all, Darjeeling isn't just delightful, it’s tea at its most experiential!

24 March 2024


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