This week the PMD Tea Buyers Club moves away from the island of Ceylon to the highlands of the beautiful Indian hill station of Darjeeling.
Every time I think of Darjeeling teas, I think back to the time a good friend of mine bought a sample of this home on his way back from India. The lifting of the lid on the freshly brewed pot left my kitchen smelling like a florist.
Darjeeling is a small hill station, that was once the favoured retreat of the British during the hot Indian summers. While writing this from a very cold London, I wouldn’t mind a trip to sub continent to get away from the harsh British winter. But I digress.
Darjeeling teas are grown at the foot hills of the Himalayas in the north east of India. Tea was first cultivated here in the 1850’s. By the mid 1860’s there where 39 tea gardens producing 21,000kg of tea. 10 years later the number of tea gardens had risen to a whooping 113.
Today Darjeeling has 80 active tea gardens that produce over 10 million kilos of Tea.
The altitude of the region reaches 7,000 feet at the highest parts. The unusual combination of high mountain air, cold winters and intense summer heat produce some of the worlds most exquisite
Darjeeling teas are known for their “Muscatel” character and flowery aroma. Many tea connoisseurs describe the teas from this region to be the Champagne of Tea.
Due to the unique changing weather patterns, unlike in most areas of the world Tea is not harvested all year round. There are four unique flushes that produce a variety of unique flavours during the course of the year.
During the months of November to early March the cold Indian winter sets in. The tea bush shuts down to protect itself. This cool spell sees the bush going into a state of survival. Much like the Uva season in Ceylon. The tea bush produces volatile oils, to keep it self alive from the extreme cold. The bush comes back into life in April when the spring sets in.
The first flush is picked at this time, the teas from this pick contain all the flavour that has been built up in the cells during the winter.
Second flush seasons comes into play during May to June. These teas have all the character of the first flush but tend to be more developed.
Towards the end of June the monsoon season arrives drenching the area with heavy rain. Due to the extreme steep slopes in the area, Tea planters here have to contend with managing the loss of their top soil that is essential to the growth of their tea. As with many tea growing regions the area does see landslides.
By September the weather dries a little and the final Autumnal flush teas are picked. Due to the monsoon the leaves contain a lot more moisture and require a much harder wither.
This week we tasted teas from the last years Autumnal flush. The teas contain that muscatel note but lack the flowery aroma that quality Darjeeling’s of the first and second flushes are known for.
Watch the full episode to get the full low down.