Teas produced in Darjeeling are among the most popular and prized at all. In the very north of the Indian state of West Bengal, in the projection near the border with the Nepal and Sikkim borders, the landscape abruptly rises from a plane to the summits of the Himalayas. A few kilometres to the north, within view of Darjeeling, is the third highest mountain in the world − Kanchenjunga.
The region originally belonged to Nepal, in 1816 it was dominated by the British who favoured it as a holiday resort thanks to its climate.
The first governor of the area was certain Dr Campbell who grew the first Darjeeling tea in 1841, using the seeds of Camelia sinensis. This was in the Beechwood garden, 2134 metres above the sea level. In 1847, the first tea tree nurseries were founded there and in 1852 the first three commercial gardens – Tukvar, Steinthal and Aloobari – were established. In 1873, 113 gardens were founded on an area of 6000 hectares and workers from the neighbouring Nepal were hired to work there.
Today, tea is grown on an area of 19,000 hectares in 83 gardens, with 1é to 11 tonnes of genuine Darjeeling produced.
The original Darjeeling tea is grown in heights from 600 to 2150 metres, mostly on the Chinese type of tea trees, which turned out to do great in the local conditions. The proportion of the Assam variant varies across plantations, with the average from 20 to 60 percent. More and more frequent is the grafting of tea, the result of which are new clones and hybrids. Such tea is then denoted “cl” or “clonal”.
Depending on the proportion of different types of tea trees, Darjeeling is divided into four classes:
Original shrubs planted around 1840 − the most sought after and appreciated teas.
Hybrids of two or more Class-1 shrubs.
Hybrids of the Assam tea tree with a Class-2 hybrid.
Their origin must be traceable to Class 2, but the shrubs are not grown directly in the Indian part of Darjeeling. They come from the Doars area (a lowland at the Himalayan foothills around the town of Siliguri near Darjeeling) or from the Sikkim, Nepal and Bhutanese borderland.
The designation of whole-leaf teas was taken from Darjeeling by other tea producers. These abbreviations, such as SFTGFOP 1 (Special Fine Tippy Golden Orange Pekoe 1) denote the proportion of tips − closed leaf buds − in the tea.
Flush takes place from March to November and is divided into the following seasons:
Spring – first flush (FF) – depending on weather, it takes place from the end of February to the end of April. Teas harvested in this time of year are very popular. They are usually the first fresh teas after winter and they are the product thanks to which Darjeeling made its name. They are typical for their fresh flowery or fruity scent, sweet, slightly astringent taste and strongly refreshing effects. The infusion is very light, golden or golden green in the cup.
The teas from this flush go to the European, American and Japanese markets, usually by air and very shortly after the harvest.
Summer − second flush (SF) − is harvested from the end of April through May till the beginning of the monsoon. They are not as famed on tea market as the first flushes, but their prices are often higher. The taste of summer-flush teas is more mature, fuller and more aromatic. Fruit, nut and sweet spicy tastes prevail, exceptionally there is the famed muscatel aroma, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The infusion is golden orange.
Monsoon flush takes place from July to September and its quality is not outstanding. These are stronger, rougher teas used for tea blends.
Autumnal flush is harvested from the beginning of October to the end of November. These are full, darker teas with distinctive fruit or nut aroma in clear, copper-like infusion. Genuine autumnal teas constitute mere 5 to 10 percent of the yearly production, which is why they are rather expensive.