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History and Varieties of Darjeeling Tea by Rickey Jones

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History and Varieties of Darjeeling Tea by
Article Posted: 08/10/2016
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History and Varieties of Darjeeling Tea

Advice,Business,Food & Beverages

Born in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the shadow of the mighty Mt. Kanchenjunga, Darjeeling tea is an exquisite tea first grown by the British during their rule over India. Before the British won the area from Nepal in 1816, Darjeeling was a mostly unpopulated forest, which they then converted to a hill station for the soldier’s sanatorium. The cool mountain air helped them to recuperate and the serene setting relieved their illness and fatigue. In 1835 the region was ceded to the East India Company. It was then that Dr. A. Campbell, Darjeeling’s first Superintendent, experimented with planting tea seeds in the area, and in 1847, the government began growing tea commercially. Darjeeling still being sparsely populated, most of the labour had to be outsourced from Nepal. By 1874, there was over 6,000 hectares of land under cultivation being managed by 113 tea gardens.

The British planted seeds that were of a Chinese origin, brought in from the Kumaon hills of north India. To this day the China variety of tea is planted in Darjeeling, and it has been discovered that, when planted anywhere else in the world, the Darjeeling taste cannot be reproduced. Something about the unique combination of the altitude, soil, rain, and sunshine of the Darjeeling estates assures that no other garden in the world can recreate the same quality tea. The elevation of the steep slopes provides the ideal drainage for the generous rainfall received in the district.

Often referred to as the "champagne of teas," a cup of Darjeeling tea is golden or amber in colour and has a unique, delicate flavour that is referred to as “muscatel,” or, having the flavour of muscatel grapes. The typical flavour can also be described as “flowery,” and sometimes, “peachy.” Tea drinkers usually prefer to skip milk and sugar to avoid any hindrance in their tea drinking experience. There are four main varieties of Darjeeling Tea:

Darjeeling Black Tea: This is the most common and traditional form of Darjeeling tea that has been known for years and produced almost by all the gardens in Darjeeling. Black tea goes through all the stages of orthodox processing (i.e. withering or machine drying, rolling, fermenting, sorting etc.). Darjeeling black tea unlike other types is 100% oxidized. It is dried up and then carefully withered in order to absorb more oxygen. As the name suggests, the tea liquor is dark in colour and can have a range of flavours including fruity, nutty, flowery and spicy, depending on the flush.

Darjeeling Oolong Tea: This tea is halfway between black and green teas in terms of flavour and oxidation. This variety came to India when the British brought Chinese tea seeds (from where oolong tea originally is) to be planted in India. The gardens that retained the original Chinese bushes still produce this tea. The tea is semi-oxidised and hard withered. There are two types of oolong teas produced in Darjeeling- clonal and China type. The grades of Oolong depend on the amount of oxidation done. Like green tea, following withering the Oolong is also steamed to stop further oxidation. The first flush (spring) liquor is light orange in colour and not popular. The liquor of second flush (summer flush) is darker orange with green infusion and muscatel flavour & fruity aroma, and is in high demand worldwide.

Darjeeling Green Tea: Darjeeling green tea is dried and steamed but not fermented, and as a result many of the natural beneficial chemicals are retained. The liquor is usually light green in colour. While Japan is the leader in green tea production and its quality, Darjeeling offers the most value for money green tea. 

Darjeeling White Tea: This is the most delicate type of Darjeeling tea and commands the highest price. It is hand-picked from the lot after tea is plucked from the gardens, dried in sun and hand rolled. There are no other steps followed in white tea processing. The tea leaves keep their original organic form retaining all the minerals and natural ingredients. The liquor is pale golden in colour and has a hint of natural sweetness. Due to its labour intensive processing method, white teas generally fetch high prices at the market. Some brands of Darjeeling White Tea have exceeded the price line of Rs. 50,000/- per kg. 

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