Monday, August 11, 2014

I'm on the Darjeeling express!

Darjeeling, Darjeeling, you give me a wonderful feeeeling!

Earlier this week I decided to stop by my local loose leaf tea shop to catch up with the owner and check out her new seasonal offerings. After talking over a cup of my favorite pineapple herbal tea, she showed me to the tea wall to see if anything caught my interest. Most of her teas are the typical teas you would find in a local tea shop, basic and un-interesting to most (they play well to the general public) but every now and then she will pick up some premium stuff for the people who enjoy "finer" teas. This time she had some nice first flush darjeeling black tea and moonshine darjeeling. Being a black tea "noob", I had almost no knowledge about the tea at hand; All I knew was that it is an Indian tea and some of high end first flushes can demand a pretty rupee.

As an oolong drinker, I tend to stay in the large tea classification because I can drink anything from neon green oolong to charcoal crispy oolong and never really get bored. There is so much variety in oolong I haven't felt the need to look anywhere else. I have always seen darjeeling advertised as a black tea but I was informed that darjeeling also has a broad spectrum of flavors and prices. "The Champagne of Tea" can range from a white tea sort of brew to a dark typical black tea broth and because of the way its processed, it is technically an oolong tea . Darjeeling tea undergoes a hard wither which causes an incomplete oxidization; an oolong "guideline" of sorts.

Darjeeling tea is picked in 5 flushes (harvests) but most tea drinkers outside of India only see 3-4 of the 5. Here is a description of all the flushes.(Taken from Wikipedia)
  • "First flush is harvested in mid-March following spring rains, and has a gentle, very light color, aroma, and mild astringency.
  • In between is harvested between the two "flush" periods.
  • Second flush is harvested in June and produces an amber, full bodied, muscatel-flavored cup.
  • Monsoon or rains tea is harvested in the monsoon (or rainy season) between second flush and autumnal, is less withered, consequently more oxidized, and usually sold at lower prices. It is rarely exported, and often used in masala chai.
  • Autumnal flush is harvested in the autumn after the rainy season, and has somewhat less delicate flavour and less spicy tones, but fuller body and darker colour."
  • While doing my research on darjeeling, I kept seeing a word I haven't seen before; muscatel. Muscatel is described as a flavor that is unique to the muscatel grape and is spicy and sweet. Its actually kind of hard to describe but when you taste it you will understand. "
    Darjeeling First Flush

    Now, with all that fun stuff out of the way, lets get to tasting! Like I was talking about before, I got an ounce of 1st flush Darjeeling for a whopping $15 and some change from a local shop. Quite pricey but not the most expensive Ive seen. The tea is pretty to look at. It looks like tiny twisted wuyi oolong leaves. The smell from the dry leaf is amazing; it is earthy and has a smell that is hard to place... as odd as it sounds, it is sort of musky like an old book.

    Just so you know, I had no idea how to brew this tea when I sat down at my tea table. I decided to brew in a gaiwan with a 1:1 ratio of leaf to water; in my experience this is a good starting point. The next decision was water temperature. With it being a "black tea" I thought off boiling was appropriate. Being cautious, I did one quick flash rinse for about 5 seconds. The broth wasn't strong at all and only had a very very slight flavor. Next was a 30 second steep which produced a beautiful golden liquor with an entrancing smell. The flavor of darjeeling takes you places within your mind. It took me to a high mountain region over-looking valley full of fog with rows upon rows of tea plants.  a beautiful sunrise creeps up past the mountains to envelope the land in rich honey colored warmth. Beautiful--pure beauty.

    As to the flavor of Darjeeling, its hard to describe well. I got hints of spice, moss, and typical "black tea" flavor from the first few sips but there are other flavors that are so subtle I cant even describe them. Little hints of fruit/vegetal flavors dance back and fouth behind the dominant spicy moss. It does tend to finish pretty astringently but not as astringent as some green teas. Lets just say its awesome and I cant wait to try the other flushes.

    Next infusion was 45 seconds and produces another infusion as tasty as the last. Nothing new in the flavor profile, that I can detect, but still as enjoyable. I did two more infusion on the leaves adding 15 seconds per infusion. These last two are tapering off in flavor (and color) but I don't mind as the liquor is still rewarding in its own way. As someone who did not expect to like black teas at all, I was pleasantly surprised by this tea. In my mind black tea is this bitter over sweetened drink that is overabundant here in the south but this has completely changed my mind. The delicate flavors darjeeling tea gives are truly unique and completely give the ability for a immersing experience. If you haven't had a darjeeling tea before, consider picking up a little bit to expand your tea horizon.

    Pictures later today!