Written by Cassie Perez
If you are a tea lover by any means, chances are you’ve tried a cup of Darjeeling tea. Most people are introduced to Darjeeling and other traditional teas in the form of a tea bag. We get it--tea bags are not going anywhere! However, at TeBella Tea we’re all about loose leaf tea, and Darjeeling is one of our very favorites.
In the tea industry, one of the most anticipated events of the year is the arrival of the year’s first Darjeeling harvest. Darjeeling is a district in the West Bengal state of India, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. There are just 87 tea estates in the region, and they produce multiple harvests (known as “flushes”) throughout the year. While Darjeeling is often thought of as one particular type of black tea, the name applies to any tea grown in the region; tea grown in Darjeeling has regional distinction, much like Champagne. In fact, Darjeeling is known as the “Champagne of Teas.”
In a single season, tea estates in Darjeeling will produce a First Flush, a Second Flush, a Monsoon Flush, and an Autumn Flush, all varying wildly in terms of appearance and flavor. All leaves are picked from the same plants at different points in their harvest cycle.
The first harvest of the season is picked in early spring, and known as a first flush Darjeeling. The first flush consists of the youngest, most tender leaves and buds from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, and is world-renowned for its delicate and complex flavor. Astringent, muscatel, and floral are qualities often associated with a first flush Darjeeling. Each year’s first flush harvest is highly coveted by those in the tea industry, and it’s arrival is an anticipated event at tea shops and tea houses the world over.
Darjeeling lovers: a fun experiment is doing a comparative tasting of various harvests produced by one tea estate in a single season. Tea tasting is a lot like wine tasting; each flush has a different flavor profile associated with it, running the gamut from the muscatel, astringent first flush Darjeeling to a dark and robust Autumn Flush.
Moreover, each tea garden will have distinct characteristics associated with the teas they produce--this idea is known as terroir, the concept of “earth affects flavor.” Similar to the wine industry factors like soil content, altitude, and climate affect the taste of tea. With a tea as delicate and varying in flavor as Darjeeling, regional terroir plays an integral role in a harvest’s reception among the tea industry.
On a personal note, Darjeeling happens to be my very favorite tea. It was the only tea I drank throughout my childhood and well into my college years, before I decided to expand my tea horizons. For me, Darjeeling is comfort. It is warm, vibrant, and soothing; each cup is like reuniting with an old friend. And while a second flush Darjeeling with a dash of milk always hits the spot, I find little as satisfying as a cup of First Flush Darjeeling.
This post was written in collaboration with TeBella Tea Company