by kate on October 25th, 2012
Perched 1500m above sea level on the lush green mountains in the Darjeeling region of West Bengal is a little slice of organic tea paradise. The Arya estate also called ‘Sidrabong’ (translates as ‘Holy Fish Water’- so much prettier in Bengali) was established by Buddhist monks in the 18th century. Here they cultured numerous Chinese plants, herbs and spices to use in traditional Ayurvedic healing. The setting is idyllic, surrounded by misty hills, streams and other organic tea estates, but notoriously steep and difficult to access as the slopes have an average 60° incline.
Not only is Arya a beautiful estate that produces wonderful organic tea; but it also an ethically-run company, with a deep-rooted philosophy of looking after their employees. A great example of the way that tea can and should be produced.
The workers and their families are provided with free accommodation in small villages spread across the estate. There is a small on-site primary school for children up to 8th grade, then they continue their education at the high school nearby. The families have a medical centre and sports facilities. The workers grow their own organic fruit and vegetables and are provided with rice and wheat, the funds to buy a cow and keep bees. All workers are provided with a retirement fund and their children are offered their parent’s jobs when they retire.
Canton Tea Co was set up in 2007 to buy great tea from small, ethically-minded and family-run estates such as Arya – and the core values of our business remain the same today. Arya produces 50-60 thousand kgs of tea per year so the relatively modest quantities we currently buy barely makes a dent. But the growth of the discerning market for high grade tea means our future is wedded to these types of estates and even as we grow we can eschew the cheap, industrially produced stuff, leaving it to the mega-corps to hoover up.
Enjoy your Arya Diamond Darjeeling this week and let it lift your spirits. Let us know below if you enjoyed it more because of the care that goes into it.
First, I can't imagine what ethics has to do with taste. It can have an emotional impact but not a sensory one. So the question is moot. On to the real issue - the tasting:
Dry leaves – typical of Darjeelings, with nutty, fruity, somewhat dry aroma. Taste – did 2 infusions: #1 pale peachy color, fruity aroma, nutty (walnut, Brazil nut) and fruity flavor; #2 more fruity tang (that Muscatel flavor these teas are know for). Had tried this same tea back in 2010 (the 2010 harvest, obviously, and this is the 2012 harvest) and as far as my memory can tell, this version is practically the same. Nice to see the Arya folks staying consistent.
@AC Cargill I don't think the question was whether ethics made it taste better, but whether it made the drink more enjoyable. i.e. I would enjoy a pair of shoes more if I knew they aren't made in a sweatshop. I think it is great that ethical companies such as Arya are recognised! Especially as the global mass market tea industry in general has not always been so ethical.
That is a strange value system, Alice. Plus, you are imposing our standards on them and actually causing them harm. How do you sleep at night knowing that? And if you think you are not harming them, then you need to study basic economics. And no, my enjoyment of a tea is NOT based on such factors. It is based on my senses. Plus, what is ethical about Fair Trade? Nothing as far as I can see. Forcing tea garden owners to pay wages higher than they can afford is NOT ethical.
@AC Cargill all I said is it is better if products are produced ethically, I never even mentioned the Fair trade system, simply that it is nice if workers are not exploited. If you disagree with that then that is your preorgative. I sleep very well at night thank you.
@AC Cargill @AliceEvans We generally don't agree with Fairtrade as a system, but you cannot deny that the Arya estate has got things right. Their workers are healthy and happy and they clearly aren't going bankrupt as a result of paying them fair wages.
On another point we think it is going too far to ask someone how they sleep at night because they believe in an ethical system of trade. Not all tea-drinkers are economists and it is an entirely fair point to say that you would enjoy something, be it a tea or a pair of shoes, knowing that it was produced by people who are not being exploited.
What a fantastic post, Senor Murphy. But is a bit of a wind up: Will you we copying in Private Eye's Pseuds' Corner?
The presentation, entry, mid-palate and finish is only one aspect of the tea experience. You can fill your head with tea data, perfect technique, struggle earnestly to describe a taste and your experience will remain in your head. You will have missed the point because tea is not an experience of the palate alone but of the whole body, the entire sensorium. Tea is an ally plant, entheogen and therapeutic vehicle. For some, tea time begins when their cups are empty and their pots are cold. When multiple cascading epiphanies break across our psyches opening portals into other dimensions. Tea's capacity to mobilize stagnate chi (qi) and unblock occluded meridians offers an invitation to sit a while longer and feel the expansive, declarative sensations a tea may have to offer. When our lips break the surface tension of the brew and our whole bodies fill with the essence of the leaf, it may be more than a few moments of respite and resolve within which we bathe. When we sit and feel our bodies and the tea move into union with each other, we reach a place of reception so clear that we may just recall every point at which our heart first opened.
Posted in wrong spot, so I ended up seeing this before getting to experience the tea. Not good. Should wait to post until the item appears here. Courteous to the rest of us.
@f h murphy I completely disagree, this is one of the most vibrant and interesting green teas I've had in a long time...
@f h murphy Dreadful, dirt?
Had a number a great Darjeelings in my life and this ain't one. I seem to find a champion about once every 8 years. Basically "dis" Darjeelings in my book "The Spirit of Tea." A teacher once told me that Darjeelings would best be left as ornamental bushes. After tasting many, I'd have to agree.
@f h murphy Are you for real? I love Darjeeling. But really, your tone is quite terse for someone who is supposed to be knowledgeable. You don't sound all that confident in your knowledge.
I was surprised by this tea. We've been drinking a lot of Darjeeling the last few weeks and this is one of the better ones we have tried. It's our first second flush and I really like it. it has a very pleasant rosy aroma and is very smooth. I did pick up a muscatel taste, but certainly not as much as in the first flush teas we have tried. Still, I knew I was drinking a Darjeeling and that I was drinking a fine tea. This is my favorite Darjeeling after Sungma Turzum Oolong, which I completely love.I just wish rhe sample had been a little larger.
Oh, heck. I couldn't wait any longer.
Yet another Arya "Jewel Tea", which means I only have ONE left to mark off, "Huzzah! The smell of the dry leaves was nothing too spectacular - woody, slightly malty, but no spicy muscatel goodness to speak of. Still a welcoming aroma, though. The leave palette was gorgeous.
I will totally confess that I accidentally over-brewed this. When I put the leaves to the steep, I was in the middle of trying to get my computer to work. (Seriously, it's like defibrillating a homeless person.)So, it was more like a four-minute infusion than the recommended two-minutes.
Even then this turned out quite wonderfully. It reminded me of the Castleton Moonlight second flush mixed with an autumnal. Burly and oolongy. What a weird juxtaposition. I'm not sure if I like it better than the Arya Ruby, but it is still up there.
@lazy_literatus Glad you like it - which Jewel tea is the last on your list?
@cantonteaco Unless there's a hidden jewel I don't know about, Topaz is the last one I need to notch off. :-)
Update: I got three hearty steeps out of this sucker. Never thought I would associate the word "hearty" with a Darjeeling. Cuts like a diamond, it does.
You have misunderstood where I was coming from here.
Actually, what surprised me about the price of this tea was that it was not £30 per 50gms
Holy heck, I just got mine today. That was REALLY quick. Haven't dipped into it just yet. Just thought I'd report an initial "YIPPEE!" ...and that the stuff smells wonderful.
Following yesterday's post, I've just had my second session, using the Gaiwan style. Amazing, even better.
!0 infusions at 5 secs: 10 : 15; 20: 25: 30: 40: 50: 60: 120. Water at 95deg and very little for each infusion. 1 gm of tea
For each infusion I note the additional flavours coming in.
1 rose, sweet raisins
2 raw sugar cane juice
3 getting touch nutty
4 flattening out, but the flavours are still there. Hint of pineapple, longafter.
5 still sweet, cotton candy
6 the burned orange smell of the hot damp leaves after pouring has gone now.
7 more brisk, but after a while that fabulous long complex sweetness which has developed is stil there
8 immediate attack is now of water, but traces of the aftertaste remain
9 extremely tired now, but a slight oolong style fruitgum mouthfeel at the end
10 One too far!
This may be the best Darjeeling I've ever had: Ditto tea of any style. It is sublte and gentle on one level, yet still packed with lovely flavours.
I'm going to modify the above to, say, 7 infusions
Is the price of £15 for 50gms a misprint?
@davidburcombe It truly is a wonderful tea. So good in fact that our Director Edgar chose it as one of 2 teas to serve at his wedding. The price is not a misprint - its not a cheap tea as so little is made that it is in very high demand
@davidburcombe I had a go at it with the gaiwan yesterday and only had time for eight infusions, i did wonder how many more I would get so I'm glad to hear that nine and ten were getting a bit weak for you! Overall I was really blown away by the beauty of this tea - I'm pretty new to this fine tea business, and this is certainly the nicest darjeeling I've had. It has a lot of depth, it's wonderfully smooth and really drinkable. One of those that made me smile as soon as it passed my lips.
Not being the biggest darjeeling fan, this tea was a very pleasant surprise! I truly enjoyed the unique sweet aroma reminding me of raisins and chocolate and its strong yet smooth and refreshing, slightly nutty taste. Brewed in gong-fu style, it gives many good quality infusions.
I received this tea early from my tea club so I thought I would be cheeky and review it early too :) As I opened the bag I was greeted by some lovely dark and medium brown leaves with silver and gold tips. They are somewhat chunky (mostly) and smell very fresh with floral with astringent highlights.
Once brewed this forms a golden brown colour and smells pleasantly floral.I usually prefer second flush Darjeeling to first flush as I admire the strength and uniqueness of the flavour. If you are after a nice Darjeeling then this does not disappoint. It has that wonderful unique muscatel grape fruitiness with hints of floralness that make it very refreshing.
Each sip continues to impress and I am lovingly savouring each flavour. Half way down the cup it takes on a gentle perfume taste that lasts in the after taste.
I can't help but be reminded of a gentle pu erh with the earthy astringencies in this Darjeeling (which I am loving).
Overall I think this is a good quality tea and I look forward to finishing the rest of the bag. :)
This packet arrived a day early, so I've already enjoyed my first tsession.
Darjeeling is all about the first infusion, but this tea's good enough for 3 more but two more would probably be enough with a teapot method of brewing.
The quantities of tea recommended seem far too large; I put a small amount in my palm, maybe a gram or a touch less and used just over a cup of water at 95 deg. for 90 secs. I've made stronger tea with other flushes from this estate and the strength gets in the way of the delicate flavours and spoils them, for me.
It took a few moments for the class to come through and it did. Delicate and perfumy on the nose, with very subtle rose and muscat grape on both nose and palate, sweet and slightly nutty, with no hint of briskness (as stated!) Long aftertaste, sweet and rounded and this carries on, on the nose, in the empty cup.
A 2nd infusion, for 2min, with a little less water, was not so good and the completeness was not there, but it was worthwhile, as was the third and forth.
What I do is to pour the 1st infusion into a small jug, so that I can enjoy some of it at the end and finish off with the tea at its best !
I loved this tea, the third type I've had from this Estate; it's classy and wonderfully balanced, gentle and voluptuous.
It might just work with the Gaiwan and I'll find out tomorrow.