by Helen Kinsella on June 2nd, 2017
This year, our First Flush Darjeeling comes from the Selimbong estate. Ali, our head of tea, tells us why this tea is so important to us:
The Darjeeling First Flush is one of the most highly anticipated events in the whole of the tea calendar. As spring arrives in the Himalayas and the mountainsides thaw out, the tea bushes slowly come back to life and by early March there is a smattering of bright green buds and young leaves covering the fields. This is our precious first flush. It kicks off a Mexican wave of tea harvests which start at Darjeeling (and Nepal) and sweep East to Yunnan and Sichuan and across the rest of China- later the wave makes its way across the South China Sea to Taiwan and hops North to Japan and Korea. The arrival of these first Darjeeling samples signals the start of the new tea year and a very busy few months ahead- the spring season is what we live for.
Why did we choose it?
Before we even started tasting the teas for the collection we already had a good idea of what would go in there. Top of the list was a superior quality First Flush Darjeeling at a reasonable price point- not the kind of tea you would drink all day everyday- but a little luxury that’s not going to break the bank. In April we received an inconspicuous parcel from India, which turned out to contain some killer Darjeelings. This parcel came courtesy of the TPI group who run some of the best gardens in Darjeeling (they also provide the teas for our Canton Darjeeling). Above all others this tea from the Selimbong Estate stood out. It has all of the classic Darjeeling flavours- super fresh, lightly astringent, with mineral notes- but on top of this it has vibrant floral notes that dance on the palate and what I like to describe as an ‘Alpine character’- a super refreshing pine-like flavour- you can really taste the pure high mountain air and mineral rich soil of the garden. At £12.50 for 50g it’s not cheap- but trust me, you get a hell of a lot of flavour for your money. We’re calling this our First Flush with an edge.
A bit about Selimbong…
The Selimbong estate in Darjeeling is by far one of the finest tea producers in the region. It has produced outstanding teas since 1995, when it was taken over by the TPI group. Translated as “Land of Orange Trees”, the estate sits in spectacular surroundings in the Rongbong Valley. Growing at an altitude between 750 and 1500 m, the tea bushes enjoy cool air and high levels of moisture, which means a very slow growth that develops complex flavours in the tea leaves.
Selimbong is also world renowned for its exceptional Biodynamic farming practices. The estate is self-sufficient and every farming technique used promotes ecological diversity and sustainability in the area. Herbal soil treatments are used instead of chemical pesticides, and planting, cultivating and harvest times are even dictated by an astronomical calendar. These methods keep the Selimbong estate low-impact, working in harmony with nature and creating a peaceful haven for local wildlife.
The Nitty Gritty
For me, the most interesting thing about tea is the incredible variety of flavour and what affects these flavours. The main factors being terrior, the bush itself (i.e. age and cultivar) and the processing methods. So for each of our Limited Edition teas we will provide the nitty gritty stats so you can learn all there is to know about the tea you are drinking; below I explain what they all mean.
Garden: The Selimbong Estate.
(This signifies this is the 6th batch of this tea)
(Stands for Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe-1- one of the top grades)
Location: Rong Bong Valley, Darjeeling, India.
(This valley is home to the best gardens in Darjeeling).
Altitude: 1368 m (4488 ft).
(High altitude- therefore has an ideal cool climate and plenty of cloud cover from the harsh sun- this means the leaves grow slower which gives them a more delicate, refined flavour).
Aspect: South-East facing.
(This means the bushes will get the gentle morning sun, but will mostly be in shade before the harsh afternoon sun appears).
Soil Type: Sandy-loam, acidic.
(Tea plants prefer an acidic soil. Sandy- loam is also great because it holds minerals which you can taste in the tea, but also drains well so the roots don’t get waterlogged with all of the rain up in the mountains).
Bush Varietal: Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis.
(AKA the ‘China varietal’. Suited to high altitudes and cool conditions- produces much more delicate and floral flavours than the Assamica varietal).
Bush Age: 100 years.
(Quite old for a Darjeeling bush- will have a nice deep root system that reach down deep to absorb all of those lovely nutrients that produce the mineral flavours).
Picking Standard: 1 bud, 2 leaves.
(Just the very youngest leaves- these have all of the nutrients and flavour, and are much more delicate than the older leaves).
Picking Date: 1st April- 8th April.
(Actually quite late for a first flush Darjeeling- this Spring the whole region suffered a severe drought- Selimbong took the decision to delay their harvest- we think they made the right call).
Processing: Controlled wither and soft rolling with limited fermentation.
(First flush Darjeelings tend to be withered for a very long period, this dehydrates the enzymes that cause heavy oxidation (darkening)- this gentle treatment and soft rolling preserves the fresh green character (the ‘Alpine- character’) and allows the floral notes to sing).