Darjeeling tea, so called because it comes from the Darjeeling district in West Bengal, India, is a black tea. However, it is lighter in colour and flavour than most other black teas (it is not as ‘malty’ tasting as everyday Breakfast blends or Assam tea). Tea lovers tend to describe its flavour as ‘fruity, floral, and astringent.’
Darjeeling tea is only available to pick two times a year, which puts it in high demand. Because it is so well regarded by the connoisseurs, it has been called the Dom Pérignon of the tea world. Ooh la la! So, if you’ve got a taste for things that are a little more luxurious – this is the one to go for!
The Art of Plucking
In 1850, Darjeeling was only a hillside hamlet, when a civil surgeon named Dr. Campbell decided to plant tea leaves in his garden there for an experiment. Obviously, it was a roaring success! By 1874, there were already over one hundred tea gardens in Darjeeling.
The plucking of Darjeeling tea is taken very seriously indeed: it must always be plucked by hand, with extreme care, and only the smallest shoots (two leaves and a bud) are taken. This meticulous method has resulted in Darjeeling's reputation as one of the finest teas in the world. However, producing just one kilogram of tea takes 22,000 pristine shoots! Bear in mind that this all has to be done on extremely steep terrain, 7,000 feet above sea level!
Despite this, Darjeeling tea pluckers face the tough weather conditions to maintain an exceptional standard and work at a quick pace. Observers have said that the workers are “so quick and skilful that it is often impossible to follow the motion of their hands and fingers as they pluck.”
A ‘muscatel’ taste
The taste of second-flush* Darjeeling tea is so unique it has been given its own word – muscatel. However, there is no official definition of this flavour, and when tea connoisseurs are asked this is the kind of answer you can expect: “very difficult to describe but it is something extraordinary and rare.”
Thankfully the world of Twitter has done a better job of describing what ‘muscatel’ means to them:
@JRscherer: dried raisins with a hay like finish
@anielozh: sweet cantaloupe with some honey drops
@onetarot: a hint of plum pulp and tobacco
Frankly, those all sound delicious, so we'll take any of them! If you've tried Darjeeling - which one do you agree with?
* Tea comes in three ‘flushes.’ These correspond to the time of year that they are grown and picked. Because of the soil and weather conditions, tea tastes different in the spring, monsoon season, and autumn.