by Ali Evans on May 4th, 2016
This week at Canton is an exciting one, as we have had three beautiful First Flush Darjeeling teas arrive from the Glenburn Tea Estate.
Kate, former member of the Canton team, is currently working at the Glenburn Estate. So for this blog post, I’m going to pass you over to Kate to explain what makes the Glenburn Estate Peach Blossom, one of the three new teas, truly special.
Kate: The more I learn about tea, the more I realise there is so much more to learn about tea. Having started as a complete tea novice and worked with Canton for the past 5 years, there’s something that always draws me back to immersing myself in the world of tea. That’s how I ended up at Glenburn Tea Estate. At over 350 acres, Glenburn’s tea fields sprawl over the undulating landscape from river level at 800ft elevation right up to the misty slopes at 3500ft, and among the tea plants nestle villages of small, brightly coloured houses with immaculately-manicured gardens. Each person who lives here is part of the Glenburn community; whether they pluck tea, work in the hotel or raise children here, they are a community based on tea. I’ve been at Glenburn through the First Flush season and have been lucky enough to experience the passion that Glenburn has for each and every tea they produce. One in particular has stood out this year: Peach Blossom, a new speciality tea made because the experts here discovered a particularly excellent quality of leaf in certain areas of the garden.
If you were lucky enough to taste last year’s Glenburn Moonshine before it sold out, you’ll know that it set the bar pretty high for specialty Darjeeling tea. Now, (and I’m going to get a little geeky in this analogy) you need to think of it as a version 1 – unique, groundbreaking and brilliant. And this year in comes version 2: Glenburn Peach Blossom, all the same qualities as the first version, with a few updates and new features.
Glenburn has been making speciality Darjeeling teas for the last six years (more info here). In previous years, the idea of using any of the precious, sought after First Flush leaf to make something different was somewhat daunting, but after the success of their Autumn Oolong (a tea based on the principles of the Taiwanese Oriental Beauty), they got the bug for experimenting. Moonshine, their flagship ‘white’ tea, has been a roaring success.
The First Flush arrives after a period of dormancy for the tea bushes. After the cold snaps of winter, as temperatures on the misty hills start to get warmer, the bushes start to come out of hibernation and sprout. The manager in charge of the garden has to designate the best leaves to make the speciality tea. A serious level of knowledge, experience and expertise is needed to select the right bushes – china or clonal? Is the leaf ready to be plucked? They are literally hunting for specific bushes – looking for the small areas in which the microclimate relating to that specific field has yielded something special. And yes I did just say that each field has its own microclimate – elevation is particularly important, but minute changes in soil quality and even which specific bushes are shaded as opposed to exposed to sunlight can make all the difference to the quality of leaf.
Time is of the essence and an on-the-spot decision has to be made – there is no waiting for the whole field to flush, they must designate their best pickers – the ones who can treat the leaf with the utmost care – and pluck immediately, making sure they are maximizing the use of the best leaf in the garden. All this relies on pure instinct – Glenburn’s ability to recognize and segregate the best leaf ensures their top-quality teas.
What’s more, each year is different. Weather conditions like increased rainfall in January before the First Flush can significantly impact on the leaf – so each year Glenburn don’t even know if they will get the leaf to make Moonshine – and one thing is for sure, the flavour profile of the teas are going to vary each year – but that’s what makes Darjeeling so special – and why every year we are so excited to see what unique delights are in store for us tea lovers.
This year the experts discovered that specific clonal leaves of the P312 varietal grown in the PSK section of the Simbong division of the garden (yes, this is how specific it is) were of particularly high quality – and when processed in the same way as Moonshine, released aromas of peach and an exquisite floral sharpness – and so Peach Blossom was born.
That’s not to say that a speciality tea is entirely dependent on the quality of leaf. Oh no. Glenburn’s ‘white’ teas (for an explanation of why I’ve used the inverted commas, see the last blog LINK) are processed gently and expertly. The oxidisation stage is particularly crucial – oxidation must be stopped at exactly the right time – this means even taking into account the distance between the oxidisation room and the dryer and deducting, for example, a minute and a half from the oxidisation time to allow for the journey the leaf has to take between the rooms. After processing the leaves are cooled and packed into wooden chests to allow the tea to breathe and mature.
As I taste Moonshine and Peach Blossom with Nibir, his passion for the flavours is evident. “Can you taste the green mango and mint coolness in the Moonshine?” he asks (I could after he prompted me, but I wouldn’t have been able to taste that on my own!). I can taste that it is deliciously fruity – light and delicate. And as I move onto the Peach Blossom and slurp the bright golden liquor from the spoon in the traditional way, I am hit with a burst of floral top notes, finishing with a mellow, sweet fruity flavour. I can definitely get this one on my own. Partha, one the experts at field level, tells me that some local Darjeeling honey that is made in an area where orange trees grown can actually absorb the orange blossom flavour, and perhaps there might have been some peach trees in the area where the Peach Blossom leaves were picked.
Peach Blossom is 2016’s standout tea. What makes it all the more delectable is the fact that it requires the coming together of so many separate factors at exactly the right time to make it possible, and which may not happen from one year to the next. Each speciality Glenburn tea has a one in a million chance of coming into creation. So, let’s take a moment to anticipate the next years’ updates: Moonshine versions 3 and 4 – or even something completely different (there’s talk of making a speciality Second Flush too). Glenburn will continue to search for the best leaf and find new and different ways to process it. We don’t know what they’ll come up with next – but you can be certain we are going to be first in line to try it.
Glenburn Estate Peach Blossom is available as a limited edition tea to pre-order now for delivery by mid-May, alongside two other outstanding Darjeeling teas from Glenburn, the First Flush and Moonshine: