by ali on April 13th, 2015
The Glenburn Estate
Glenburn is a prestigious Darjeeling Estate nestled in the foothills of Mount Kanchenjunga. Originally founded by a Scottish company in 1859, it now belongs to one of India’s pioneering tea planting families – The Prakashes (who also happen to own the Khonghea Estate in Assam). Glenburn Estate is 758 hectares in total, 285 of which is dedicated to tea; the rest is covered by forests, rivers, 8 villages, 3 schools and 1 hospitals. Like most estates in Darjeeling, Glenburn grows large volumes of China varietal black orthodox teas. However, in recent years they have started making speciality teas such as whites, greens and oolongs and also started to use interesting clones to produce premium black teas. We are really excited to be forming a close relationship with the Prakash family who share our values of good quality tea produced sustainably and ethically.
We are awaiting the arrival of two amazing teas from the Glenburn: their unique speciality First Flush Darjeeling and exquisite white ‘Moonshine’ Darjeeling. Husna-Tara Prakash here tells us about the process of creating these fantastic teas.
Darjeeling has traditionally been known for its black teas. When and how did Glenburn start to develop these speciality teas?
Glenburn started working on speciality teas about 6 years ago when the tea market around the world really started to take an interest in single estate, speciality teas made in small batches. Our first speciality tea was an Autumn Oolong, which was inspired by the Taiwanese Oriental Beauty. Next we experimented with a lighter Spring Oolong that eventually became our Moonshine that really does herald the new season in early March with its lovely light, spring flavour. Our Silver Needle White Tea has won a number of awards and is made in late summer from particular fields only. We were also able to do this using the AV2 Clone that we started planting out in the estate about 8 to 10 years ago. As these young teas came into maturity, we realised that the unique floral character they have was best suited to these types of teas. Sadly, the clone is not as hardy as some of the others, so is susceptible to drought and adverse weather conditions, and we wish we could make more of these teas that are so popular with our customers. However, this is precisely what makes these small batches so unique and sought after!
Is there any special reason why Moonshine got its name?
We first made this tea in between First Flush and Second Flush as a light oolong tea. We had a tea expert from America, Dan Robertson, visit and taste this and he suggested trying this during First Flush as the appearance of this beautiful tea would get enhanced with a First Flush flavour as well. So we tried it the following season, confining it to AV2 clonal fields, and using the finest of tea leaves just at the start of the season. We also reduced the oxidation to a bare minimum and the perfect Spring conditions meant we hardly needed to tamper with the wither. And so was born a tea that was more of a White Tea than an Oolong, and we named it Moonshine as it had so many delicate silvery tips, with a beautiful pale liquor. Was it inspired by the exotic nature of the original Moonshine, or White Lightning liquor? Perhaps…..but our Moonshine is a bit of an enigma. It isn’t a completely white tea, as there is a touch of oxidation albeit very brief, but it certainly isn’t a black or an oolong either!
Please explain the making process of the Moonshine.
Moonshine is made in very small batches during the month of March, mainly from the AV2 clone which has unique floral characteristics and is very suited to making specialty teas. The small “two leaves and a bud” are harvested and withered naturally with cool Spring air, and the leaves are rolled in a “mini” roller, used only to make specialty tea in very small batches. As the leaves are so fresh and succulent, there is very little oxidation, and the tea is then fired at 240 degrees Fahrenheit. The tea comes out of the drier mouth and is hand sorted carefully by our sorting ladies, and then it is packed into wooden chests so that the leaves are not broken in transit.
Canton’s batch of Moonshine was made towards the end of our Moonshine season, when the character of the AV2 clone really shone through to the cup.
The aroma is perhaps flowery, breezy, with subtle hints of fresh hay. The taste is delicate and sweet, with a “lily of the valley” floral warmth and hints of the softest peach.
What clone is used to make the First Flush Darjeeling? And what are the special characteristics of the clone?
The AV2 clone or tea cultivar varietal, comes from the Ambari Estate and its full name is Ambari Vegetative 2. Teas made from this particular cultivar are extremely floral and fruity in taste, in contrast with the more typical “astringent and muscatel” China flavour that was earlier associated with a typical Darjeeling. Traditional Darjeeling tea drinkers, familiar with this type of tea, find the China type more in keeping with a typical Darjeeling, but many drinkers now prefer the more floral and aromatic taste of the clonal teas. We have some other clones at Glenburn, and we are also the only estate to have a ‘seed barrie’, or nursery where we have tea trees growing to full height, and cross pollinating between 2 of our popular clones. These seedlings have been planted out recently and we are excited to see how they will taste in the coming years. Tea bushes planted from seed as compared to vegetative cuttings, will have genetic variation, but clonal bushes will all be identical, which does keep them uniform in their taste, so the different qualities between different clonal invoices, come from external factors like the weather, and how much “stress” the bush is facing. We seem to get our most flavourful tea when stress is high, either through a lack of rain, frost or an outbreak of thrips.
This First Flush has a very unique flavour in terms of First Flush Darjeeling, is this just due to the clone? Or do you process it in a special way?
The fields from which this First Flush has been made contain 3 clones – AV2, P312 (Phoobsering 312) and T78 (Tukdah 78), so it contains a unique mix of flavours and aromas. The aroma is subtle, delicate and flowery, with hints of alpine freshness and wood. There is a delicate but crisp beginning, with a pleasant “Darjeeling” astringency, ending with sweet warm, floral notes of citrus, rose and peach.
At Canton Tea Co we like to know exactly where our tea comes from. We know that Glenburn keeps very thorough records and can even tell us which fields each batch was picked from and what days they were picked! Please can you give me as much detail as possible?
The tea fields of Glenburn.
The tea fields of Glenburn were historically named after workers who were probably in charge of planting out those fields, or features, or landmarks in the area. For example, the First Flush has been made from leaves plucked from the Kimble Division of the estate, named after the first Glenburn manage, Kimble Murray, back in 1859. Within this division are sections known as CBC, CBC I, CBC II, BJA and BJC.
CB-C stands for Coffee Barrie, part C, which means Coffee Garden in the local language. So perhaps there was a coffee garden at Glenburn? We haven’t been able to trace this bit of history from the company that used to own Glenburn, but some workers say that there were coffee plants in and around these fields. It was a large area which was later divided into CB-A, CB-B and CB-C, and CBC is further divided into I, II and III.
BJ-A and BJ-C are named after Bhakat Jung, who was probably the worker or supervisor in charge of this area when the field was first planted out. This probably dates back to 1859 when Glenburn was first planted out with tea fields, although these are more recently planted clonal tea bushes.
Plucking these teas
The dates of plucking the First Flush Darjeeling were the 17th and 18th of March, and it was packed on 19th March 2015.
The Moonshine was plucked from CBC, CBC II and BJC on the 19th of March, and there was a special group of pluckers who were searching for extremely fine leaf. In the early days of First Flush, the “flush” is often spread out, so you might have to come back to the same section on consecutive days, as part of the field has thrown up its fresh shoots, and other parts of the field catch up a day or two later. Later on in the season, a single field will generally “flush” at the same time, but this slow and often isolated growth, is what makes the First Flush so special. It was packed on March 22nd.