It’s been a while now since I started writing my tea blog and I’ve been lucky enough to sample some fascinating, lesser known teas (to me at least) from around the world. I have sampled the first pick of Sencha green tea from Japan, delicately flavoured black teas from Yunnan in China, and a variety of incredible Oolong teas from Taiwan, all of which have broadened my tea drinking horizons. Somehow though, I have managed to completely miss one of the most popular (and often most expensive) teas, highly regarded for its complex flavour, light astringency and incredible variety between harvests. It is of course Darjeeling, and it’s about time I got round to trying some!
Darjeeling is a town situated in the foothills of the Himalayas in West Bengal, India. Tea bushes cover the misty slopes, this time it’s not the native Assam plant though, but the Camellia sinensis, originating from China, that is used to produce the famous tea that bears the town’s name. It is often referred to as ‘the champagne of teas’ which gives a pretty clear suggestion of the standing that this particular growing region has.
So why is it so special? Well it’s in the unique flavour that comes from the intriguing geographical and botanical relationship that makes the tea so appealing and sought after. Serious Eats summed it up perfectly as, “A Chinese tea that grows in India with flavors of French grapes and Himalayan mountain air.” Now you can see why I had to get some!
The tea I picked up was from my local tea shop, Bollands, which is located in Chester. It’s a great little place full of loose leaf teas and posh coffees (if that’s your thing) found on ‘The Rows’ overlooking the high street and brilliant for picking up something new to sample. The Darjeeling I chose is produced by the Namring Estate which is something I plan to go to in more detail in a different blog post so watch this space! Having the provenance of the tea right there on the label is incredible and something quite new to me. It allows you (with the help of Google maps of course) to see exactly where your tea is grown and the conditions, or terroir, that created it.
Anyway, on to my taste of the Namring Estate’s First Flush Darjeeling. I flicked on the kettle and let it cool to just-off boiling before letting my tea steep for about 3 minutes. I’m always wary of overdoing it and putting myself of a new tea by making it too strong, so for this one I stuck to the shortest time suggested on the handwritten packet. The brewed tea was a clear, honeyish colour and at first glance I thought I may well have under-steeped. It had a sweet, fruity aroma that tempted me in and I couldn’t wait to give it a try!
On first taste, the sweet and fruitiness was clear, but the also offered a floral note too. It was soft and delicate and finished with a light astringency that I had not expected, but was perfect to finish each mouthful and keep you wanting more. For me, a little bit of astringency (almost bitterness) is welcome, probably due to my familiarity with black tea. Despite sharing its land of origin with well renowned black teas though, Darjeeling couldn’t be further from an Assam or Ceylon.
This was a tea that I had heard so much about, and I’m seriously glad I picked some up. It was a fascinating flavour that I think many will enjoy, and everybody should taste. I know I’ll be barracking my friends and colleagues into trying it when the kettle gets put on!
Are you a fan of Darjeeling? Do you have a particular favourite that you think I should try? Please leave your comments below, I’d love to hear from you.