In our Oct 2022 tea box, we have 3 second flush Darjeeling teas from 3 renowned estates of Goomtee, Jungpana and Margaret's Hope. We would like to introduce and compare the 3 teas in this article.
First, the terroir of Darjeeling. It is located right at the foot of the Himalayas, to the south of the 3rd highest peak of Kanchenjunga (also spelled Khangchendzonga). Almost daily, the beautiful snow-capped peak pierce through the clouds and radiate a blinding glow. We took this beautiful picture of Kanchenjunga when we visited Darjeeling before COVID. We immediately have a strong feeling that the teas from this region will be special - steeped in history, blessed by the Himalayas, crafted by skilled hands.
Thick fog descents rapidly onto the area when the sun starts to set, bringing an immediate chill and light rain which often send the unsuspecting tourists scrambling for cover and raincoat. The average rainfall is similar to Singapore at 2,200 mm, with variations from 1,700 mm to 2,500 mm. The tea estates stretch from the low plains of Siliguri up, and are located between 200 m to 2,000 m above sea level. Temperature ranges from 1°C to 20°C, but this year February saw rare snowfall in Darjeeling town for 2 consecutive days after a gap of 15 years, with temperatures dipping to -2°C. Tea plants go into hibernation under a snow blanket, and cold weather is believed to produce sweeter and more fragrant teas.Of the 3 estates, Goomtee and Jungpana are situated next to each other, and Jungpana can only be assessed via Goomtee. Goomtee is located along the main road - Hill Cart Road - leading from the foothills up to the Darjeeling town at the far north, where the road deviates from its general northward direction and bend eastwards for a good distance before turning back west and then northward again. The nearest town is Kurseong, in which we stayed during our visit. Margaret's Hope is further north, less than midway between Kurseong and the next town of Gloom. The elevation of Goomtee and Jungpana are similar, between 1,000 m to 1,600 m, while Margarat's Hope is slightly higher at 1,000 m to 1,800 m. The tea varieties also differs - Goomtee is using China Bushes (CH), Jungpana is using China Clone (CL) and Margaret's Hope is using AV2 - a clone of a local selection (from the natural mutation of the China Bushes).
The dry leaves for all 3 teas contains a fair amount of white hairy tips, suggesting picking of tender leaves. There is a variation of colours from dark green to black, indicating varying oxidation levels of the leaves. Closer inspection will reveal that the bigger leaves (perhaps the 2nd leaf in the picking) are lesser oxidised than the smaller ones, which is reasonable if the oxidation time is the same for all the leaves. CH and AV2 are slightly bigger as compared to CL, due to different microclimate given the similar dates of picking - Jungpana is deep in the forest, off the road, and enjoys slightly colder days and nights, leading to the slower growth. And because of this, Jungpana is oxidised lesser during tea making, as shown in the brighter red of the brewed leaves as compared to the darker tones in the other two teas.
We brewed the 3 teas twice using 2 batches of 3 gm leaves for each tea. The first brew was at 2 min, 100 ml, 85°C; the second was at 30 sec, 100 ml, 85°C. As shown in the picture below, the darker colour is the first brew.
Common to Goomtee and Jungpana, a spicy note of pepper or mint always tinkle the nose aside from the characteristic fruity note. In the long brew, Goomtee display more notes of stonefuits and classic red tea aromas. In the short brew, it showcases the very sweet and intense muscatel and raisin notes. Amongst the 3 teas, it is the most aggressive and has the shortest aftertaste. Jungpana is smooth and round in the long brew, almost hinting of creaminess. In the short brew, it is light and elegant, turning into sweet grape juice when cold. Margaret's Hope is of a different style from these 2 teas. In the long brew, it has the longest aftertaste, its grapey aroma lingering quietly but authoritatively in the palate. In the short brew, the profile is like sugarcane, slightly vegetal but sweet, and carries some mysterious umami. In fact, the cup smelled like roasted seaweed in the short brew. The brew colours are similar amongst them, with Goomtee seeming slightly lighter for both brews. We suspect this is due to the differing amount of sunlight the plants receive, or perhaps the different facing of the slopes where the teas were growing. No bitterness was detected in all the brews.
The muscatel note - decoded as champagne or grapey aroma - is the defining characteristic of 2nd flush Darjeeling teas. All 3 teas display varying degrees of this note, either intense or elegant, but beautiful anyway. This is the result of a tea jassid called Empoasca flavescens from the Cicadellidae family of insects that attack the tea plants during summer. About 3 mm in length, it is a tiny leafhopper that sucks the sap of tender buds and leaves, causing the injured leaves to stop growing and shrivel, lose moisture and start oxidation while still alive and on the plant. In a twist of nature to defend itself, the plant releases volatile compounds that attract the natural predators of these jassids to come to its rescue, as well as warn other tea plants of the impending danger. Either way, these volatile compounds are monoterpenes which are also the aromatic compounds defining tea quality. When the leaves lose moisture, its chemical compounds are concentrated, explaining the intense aromas of 2nd flush teas. These intense aromas are also proof that insecticides were not used during the cultivation. Summer is when insects are most active and farms often resort to insecticides to ward them off. For sake of health, this is the reason why Parchmen & Co almost do not offer any summer teas except Darjeeling 2nd flush and Oriental Beauty (or similar styles of teas bitten by the tea jassid).
If you ask us which teas we prefer, it would be a tough question. They are good in their own ways. Anyway, they are world renowned teas enjoyed by royalties and commoners alike for more than 100 years, and they are the most marketed and recognisable estates by the major tea brands. So, let your own taste be the guide!
Thank you for drinking tea with us!