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teatips.info :: types of tea :: darjeelings

Infusion of Darjeeling. Photo by Anna Mironova.
Infusion of Darjeeling. Photo by Anna Mironova.

In the article about different types of black tea, I said some words about Darjeelings — teas grown in the north of India at Himalayan hillsides. This time I want to get back to this topic. Just some words and even some lines are not enough and even outrageously few to describe these gorgeous teas.

I do understand that one man’s tea is another man’s poison, but I will still allow myself a peremptory statement — there are no better black teas than Darjeelings. Ceylon, Kenyan, South Indian (Assam) teas can be extremely good, but to compare them with Darjeelings is the same as to compare plebeians with a fairytale prince. Chinese red (black, according to European classification) teas possess the dignity lacked by Kenyan, Ceylon, and Assam teas. Moreover, most probably the Chinese red teas are forefathers of Darjeelings in the direct line — both technological and botanical forefathers. And they can be compared, of course, but…

The dignity of the red Chinese teas is flat and boring. When drinking most of the Chinese red, one wants to make a serious face and start a sedate conversation about nothing. Darjeelings make people laugh — their dignity teases and delights…

Darjeelings are marvelously beautiful. They are notably lighter than other black teas. And this lightness is visible even in the dry tea leaves — for, as a rule, a good Darjeeling has tea leaves of three colors: brownish-green, green, light-grey-green. Depending on the plantation, where the tea was plucked, and the time of plucking, tea-leaves of one of the three colors can predominate, thus determining the general hue of the dry tea. Some single-estate Darjeelings have a frankly green color (such is, for example, Tukdah First Flush Darjeeling plucked in 2004). For the most part, however, the Darjeeling color is dark-light-green (I do realize that this is nonsense but I simply cannot describe it any other way).

Whittard of Chelsea Darjeeling Badamtam First Flush 2005. Photo by Anna Mironova.
Whittard of Chelsea Darjeeling Badamtam First Flush 2005. Photo by Anna Mironova.

The lightness of the Darjeeling dry tea leaves is passed on to the brew as well — but only the lightness though. One may, of course, see the greenish notes in the cup as well — but they completely dissolve in the lush sunniness of the drink. Because of this incredible color, Darjeelings must irremissibly be drunk out of white cups and in a good light (most desirably — sunny daylight). The most beautiful Darjeeling in my life I drank on October 2, 2004 in Pushkinskiye Gory (a small town in the northwest Russia) in the bright light of the autumnal sun, in some hundred meters from the Pushkin country-house museum, hiding behind the old windmill from the watchful eyes of the museum guards…

Darjeelings have the most exquisite flavor. The perception of the flavor of any tea depends a lot on one’s scent background — that is why my comparisons are wholly subjective and individual, but nevertheless… The flavor of this tea reminds me of the fragrances, which sometimes arise in the light pine forest, when a very light wind brings now fresh, dry and mossy smell of trees, now subtle sweetness of thyme, now light coolness of grass. None of these smells are possible to catch but their mixture makes eyes dimmed with the tears of delight. Add a slightly wet warm note to these forest fragrances and you will get the flavor of a good Darjeeling. An average flavor — and there are still nuances!

By the way, to let Darjeeling’s flavor open to the full, brew it with the water rich in oxygen — that is, on no account, let the water over-boil.

The taste of Darjeeling complies with the same rules as its flavor. In this taste, regardless of the place and the time of the tea plucking, there are typical ‘Darjeeling notes’, harmoniously supplemented by nuances and tinges, which, of course, in their turn, depend on the place and the time of the plucking a lot. By tradition, I will not dare to describe the nuances and tinges, but will venture to convey the typical Darjeeling notes of the taste.

Darjeeling on tower. Photo by Sergey Kalinin.
Darjeeling on tower. Photo by Sergey Kalinin.

The first thing one feels when tasting a Darjeeling is its roughness. This roughness immediately sets the main principle of the Darjeeling taste — the antinomy, — because the roughness is very mild and almost sweet. And then this ‘almost sweetness’ changes into an elusive sourishness which smoothly flows into the warmth of the hot drink, instantly giving place to the flowery freshness, which touches not only the taste but also the scent, - and anticipates the aftertaste…

The Darjeeling’s aftertaste… It encompasses all components of the taste: sweetness and freshness, roughness and sourishness — otherwise this aftertaste would not be the ‘aftertaste’. But all these freshness-roughnesses are supplemented by the fabulous light tickling dryness. It makes one want either to kiss, or to have more tea, or to just sit with one’s chin propped in one’s hand, listen to the Varangian and smile foolishly…

Darjeelings do not pall. I happened to drink very many different teas — some being very rare, some very tasty, some very expensive, and some very unusual — but any of those teas palled on me rather quickly. Unless this tea was a Darjeeling. Darjeelings are gentlemen among teas. They are not obtrusive, but always at your service in every way. They can wash down a light breakfast, they are perfect to conclude dinner with, and they make wonderful five o’clock teas, especially with good dry dates and crackers with peanut butter. In the end, Darjeelings are well drunk between times, they pull one out of the daily routine and make standstill with a cup in one’s hand in the state of light and utterly speechless delight.

Darjeelings are very diverse. Their diversity, which lies in the tinges of the color, notes of the flavor, and nuances of the taste, depends on the tea plantation (there are lots of them in Darjeeling) where the tea was grown and the time of the plucking. Such a diversity of the teas of one name is a true godsend for a collector and a source of everlasting pleasure for a tea connoisseur.

And, finally, I like them a lot, these very North-Indian teas, Darjeelings. I like the whole variety of them — from exquisite and delicate teas from the Tukdah estate to rather plain and even coarsish Nepal teas (they are grown at the same foothills of Himalayas but in another country). When I leave home for different conferences where I have to live on tea bags and begin to miss good tea — I miss Darjeelings.

Denis Shumakov (denis.shumakov@gmail.com)

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