Darjeeling Black Tea - Namring EstateDarjeeling is a small district in the Indian state West Bengal, and pretty much the only reason there are people there is because of tea. Before the tea industry started up maybe a hundred people lived there, which is not unreasonable for a little patch of hilly land edging up into the Himalayas. Now roughly 700,000 people live there, and the largest industry is growing tea.

The Tea Industry in Darjeeling

They export about 20 million pounds of tea a year, which sounds like a lot, but it’s actually kind of low. While India’s other primary tea grower, Assam, exports massive amounts of tea that ends up in every black tea blend tea bag in the world, Darjeeling is about quality instead of quantity. The tea is picked by hand, two leaves and a bud, and there’s a movement to make every estate in Darjeeling organic, which has gotten remarkably far. Darjeelings have a solid history of being considered an exceptionally nice, high quality tea, especially in Britain, and the tea growers are now pushing that idea for all it’s worth, trying to cement the idea of Darjeeling as quality in the modern market.

This Stuff Is Actually Pretty Tasty

All advertising aside, they are quite good. It’s hard to make good tea, and places that haven’t been doing it for several hundred years often have difficulty making a really top quality tea, but Darjeeling is doing an excellent job. This is the part where I admit that I’m not very good at tasting things and giving paragraphs of well reasoned opinions on the bright overtone contrasting with the notes of burnt toast in the aftertaste or what have you, but a lot of people agree that Darjeeling is doing a bang up job on their tea. It’s delicately flavored and complex, and sometimes comes out with this muscat grape flavor so startlingly distinct that even I can pick up on it. I think those bright, clear flavors are good for those of us who aren’t taking time off from training for the sommelier exam, because they are more obvious than the quiet flavors in the high grade Chinese teas. A high quality tea for beginners, if you will.

The Headaches of Success

The problem with making low amounts of a high quality product is that you get fakers. Four times as much

Darjeeling Logo

The official Darjeeling Logo. You probably won't see it, because it's on the wholesale packaging, but it's the guarantee of real Darjeeling.

‘Darjeeling’ tea is sold as Darjeeling actually makes. The fakes aren’t necessarily horrible tea, but tea is only Darjeeling if it comes from that little corner of West Bengal, like Champagne is only Champagne if it comes from that part of France. The other things on the shelves are just sparkling wines that wish they could get in on the brand power of Champagne’s name. In fact, Darjeeling is sometimes called the Champagne of teas, I think both because of the place issue and because the light, bright flavor of Darjeeling in comparison to other Indian tea is similar to the difference between how Champagne and other wines taste. That’s just a guess, though, I don’t know a whole lot about wine.

Those Harvest Types That People Keep Mentioning

Darjeeling has enough tropical climate to drive several harvests in a year. The first flush is the basic spring harvest that every tea grower in the world does, very bright and green. The next export is the second flush, the summer harvest. The green notes fade a little and the flavor becomes rounder. This is the harvest where those crazy muscatel notes are most distinct, which adds a certain kind of fun to the proceedings, at least if you’re me and have an addiction to muscat flavored candy. There can be a harvest during the mons0on season, but that tea is mostly used in blends, you won’t see it on the market. And finally, an autumn harvest, where the green notes have retreated almost entirely in favor of the rounded, mature ones.

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff