by ali 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.
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.
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.
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!
Blog by Louise at Canton Tea