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Darjeeling tasting

Darjeeling Day

by on October 24th, 2014

This week at Canton we had our first internal tea training day. We learnt all about Darjeeling tea: the region, the history of tea growing there, the difference between the seasons and flushes, and the flavour characteristics that different Darjeelings can offer. Rare Tea Hunter Phil Mumby led the talk, imparting wisdom and knowledge gained from 35 years in the trade.

Jen and Phil

Jennifer and Phil

We tasted a few first flush Darjeelings from different tea plantations, and then some second flush, looking for the distinctive muscatel character. We had a break for some amazing chocolate and peanut butter brownies made by Kate for Canton Cake Day, which advantageously happened to coincide with Darjeeling Day. We finished by tasting a selection of high-end, special Darjeelings, including a couple made in the oolong style, and one white Darjeeling.

Darjeeling tasting

First and Second Flush Darjeeling Tasting


Sophie with Brownies

Sophie with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Brownies

Tea first came to Darjeeling in 1841, and was grown from Chinese seed. This small-leaf China ‘jat’ thrived in the cool high mountains, and these trees still produce the best teas, known as ‘vintage’ or ‘china’ Darjeeling. Later, seeds and cuttings were brought in from Assam and planted lower down the slopes in Darjeeling, producing higher yields but a different flavour.

Darjeeling in 1912

Darjeeling in 1912

I learnt why First Flush Darjeeling tea looks (and can taste) so green. It is left to wither a huge amount, so it’s super dry before being rolled. As a result, the leaves are only semi-oxidised, because there is not enough moisture left for them to oxidise fully. Therefore they retain lots of greenness, rather than turning dark and orangey like other black teas.

For Second Flush Darjeeling, the leaves are picked later in the season when they are larger. They are less withered, so the oxidation process happens more fully. The result is sweeter and darker than first flush, often with a grapey muscatel character.

Many supermarket and big brand tea companies, rather than using first or second flush leaves, buy leaves from the next season, the monsoon season, known as rains leaves. These are cheap, and for good reason – they really don’t taste very nice, or even very much like Darjeeling.


Here is a video of the toy train ride from Kurseong to Darjeeling.


The Darjeeling Day was a great success. Further tea training events coming up include Assam Day and Japanese Tea Day – can’t wait!

Jennifer tasting Darjeeling

Jennifer tasting Darjeeling


Blog by Louise at Canton Tea

  1. Tor Browne says:

    Oh what a shame I wish I’d known ! I love Darjeeling and I live on its tea!

  2. Muscatel seeker says:

    Does anyone know of a  Darjeeling tea that truly has that ‘distinctive muscatel flavour’? I often buy second flushes that are described as having ‘muscatel characteristics’ or similar but can never detect them!

  3. Cantonteaco Ali says:

    Muscatel seeker

  4. Cantonteaco Ali says:

    Muscatel seeker Muscatel seeker You’re right, many Second Flush Darjeelings are marketed as having a Muscatel flavour, and really don’t! I think the problem is that even experienced tea buyers assume that all Second Flush Darjeelings have the Muscatel flavour without really knowing what that flavour is. On our Darjeeling day we tried a number of teas and only 1 had that distinct grapey character. We are aiming to have some new Second Flush Darjeeling in after Christmas which really will have a distinct Muscatel flavour, so keep an eye on the website.