Darjeeling teas attract a following throughout the world due to its historical significance and outstanding flavour coupled with its low production. How rare could Darjeeling teas be if they can be bought freely in any commercial tea shops or tea salons selling them in huge teapots, you may ask. Today's tea industry acknowledges that teas sold as Darjeeling may not truly be from any of the 90 estates located there, and they could have crossed over from Nepal under the cover of night, or bypassed the lax border control in broad daylight. Not that Nepalese teas are any less superior, but it is also the historical significance and terroir we are tasting in the prized Darjeeling teas. Even if they are true Darjeeling, they may not be from the signature harvests of the hills - the first and second flushes, but could be from the rain or summer flushes which are then packed into flashy boxes to line the retail shelves of commercial tea shops as a single estate tea or tea blend across estates, harvests or with other non-tea ingredients.
Good teas need not be flavoured, blended or sweetened. Our Darjeeling First Flush tea box features three estate we have never bought from, located at three different growing regions within the Darjeeling hills. Taking the asphalt pathed Hill Cart Road, officially known as National Highway 110, that climbs up from the Siligiri plains to Darjeeling town at 2,000m, we first reach Kurseong at 1,500m (where Giddapahar, Goomtee, Jungpana, Margarat's Hope tea estates are located), then Sonada at 1,850m (where Ringtong Tea Estate is located) before hitting the main Darjeeling town. At a map distance of about 10 km on the west of Kurseong lies the town of Mirik where Okayti Tea Estate is located, along the parallel Mirik Road. Another 6 km further west from Mirik is the famous Nepalese tea village of Shri Antu.
In this tea box, we study the three Darjeeling first flush teas we feature in 2023. Of them, Ringtong and Rangdoo (now Okayti Tea Estate) were established first, in the period of 1865 to 1870, while Giddapahar was established a decade later at 1881. All three estates are some of the oldest in Darjeeling. Kurseong and Mirik are located around 1,500m, and both Giddapahar and Okayti enjoy similar elevation of cultivation. Sonada is located higher around 1,850m, being more north and closer to Darjeeling town, and Ringtong enjoys this higher elevation, Being very old estates, they carry the China variety of the tea plant, as denoted by CH. All three teas are the highest grade in the three estates, and are equally prized, although they seem to indicate otherwise with Giddapahar and Ringtong being SFTGFOP 1, while Okayti is FTGFOP 1 without the 'Super' designation indicated by the letter 'S'. Such gradings are according to the tradition of the tea estate and the designations they chose to adopt when they first started.
Indian red teas are usually called black teas, because the British and now the Indians inherited the old manners teas were called before the Chinese revision of their tea system in 1950. From a Chinese tea processing perspective, the Indian red tea is in fact an oxidised green tea, given its long, often overnight, withering process and very short time between rolling and firing. This explains its varied colours as compared to the monotone of black or gold in the Chinese style. The Indian style of processing retains the plant's very floral character - just like in a Chinese green tea - and with aromas from different baskets of fruits - grapes and berries as compared to matured, sweet tropical fruits in a Chinese red tea. High grade Chinese teas are full unbroken leaves while a SFTGFOP 1 Darjeeling is always broken. This is because the long withering process dries up the leaves so much they are torn up into tiny bits against the heavy rolling of the British colonial era, gigantic machines. Red tea mouthfeel is dependent on the cultivar and the time duration in oxidation and these factors vary across the entire Indian and Chinese spectrum depending on the estate and product.
We are brewing all three teas with the same parameters of 3g to 120ml of 80°C water for 45 sec in our Parchmen Glass Gaiwan.
Comparing the dry leaves, Giddapahar looks longer and broader and Okayti looks shortest. The brewed leaves look most uniform for Giddapahar, with most of the leaves in green-yellowish tone. The most colour variation comes from Okayti, ranging from greenish to reddish leaves, indicating a range of oxidation from light to heavy. This is perhaps from batch blending or the different speed of growth between the picked leaves.
Okayti brew colour is the most intense, owing to the heavier colouring from the larger amount of thearubigins as a result of heavier oxidation. This further adds to the heavier mouthfeel in Okayti, and more complexity in the flavour, with an immediate perfumy note of grapes, white and red florals, but a short afterflavour. Ringtong is thick but less so in mouthfeel as compared to Okayti but it has a consistent flavour from hot to cold, and it has a long afterflavour of flowers and matured fruits. The sweetness, smoothness, fruity and floral characteristic are most intense in Ringtong. There is a rock sugar sparkling note in it. In Giddapahar, it is the easiest to drink, with clean and straight forward notes of white florals, and little astringency developing as it cools. There is a curious milk chocolate note in the afterflavour.
Taste these teas at Pacto by Parchmen.
We are fans of Indian Darjeeling teas, and we hope we have changed your impressions of Indian teas.
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