Darjeeling tea is a tea from the Darjeeling district in West Bengal, India. It is available as black, white or oolong. When properly brewed, it yields a thin-bodied, light-colored infusion with a floral aroma. The flavor can include a tinge of astringent tannic characteristics, and a musky spiciness sometimes described as muscatel]. Although Darjeeling teas are marketed commercially as "black teas", almost all of them have incomplete oxidation (<90%), so they are technically more oolong than black.
Unlike most Indian teas, Darjeeling is normally made from the small-leaved Chinese variety of Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, rather than the large-leaved Assam plant (C. sinensis var. assamica). Traditionally, Darjeeling tea is made as black tea; however, Darjeeling oolong and green teas are becoming more commonly produced and easier to find, and a growing number of estates are also producing white teas. After the enactment of Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection Act, 1999) in 2003, Darjeeling tea became the first Indian product to receive a GI tag, in 2004-05 through the Indian Patent Office.
Tea planting in the Indian district of Darjeeling had begun during 1841 by Arthur Campbell (British East India Company), a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service. Campbell was transferred to Darjeeling in 1839 and used seeds from China to begin experimental tea planting, a practice he and others continued during the 1840s. The government also established tea nurseries during that period. Commercial development began during the 1850s.
Traditionally, Darjeeling teas are classified as a type of black tea. However, the modern Darjeeling style employs a hard wither (35-40% remaining leaf weight after withering), which in turn causes an incomplete oxidation for many of the best teas of this designation, which technically makes them a form of oolong. Many Darjeeling teas also appear to be a blend of teas oxidized to levels of green, oolong, and black.
- 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.
Darjeeling white tea
The white variant of Darjeeling tea has a delicate aroma and brews to a pale golden color with a mellow taste and a hint of sweetness. Darjeeling white tea leaves are very fluffy and light; therefore, it is recommended to use more (by volume) when preparing it than one normally would of other teas.
The tea is hand picked and rolled, then withered in the sun, making it a rare tea. It is grown in the rainy and cold climate of Darjeeling at altitudes up to 2000 metres.
The oolong variant of Darjeeling tea has two distinct types: clonal and China. The China type is more similar to Taiwan oolong and the clonal type is totally different from it.
Darjeeling oolong is lighter than usual Darjeeling black tea during first flush, as it is semioxidized. The cup looks light orange and infusion remains green. Darjeeling oolong in second flush is more accepted worldwide. It is more thick in cup and dark orange in liquor with distinct muscatel flavours. The China type oolong has very rare muscatel flavour and sells somewhere around US$40–200 per kg. Clonal oolong has distinct flowery or spicy taste, so is not as well accepted as Darjeeling oolong worldwide.
Not all Darjeeling gardens are qualified to produce Darjeeling oolong; only those with the following conditions are capable of making it:
- Altitudes 3000 ft above sea level are required.
- Old China bush (Chesima) concentration should cover at least 40% of total tea-growing area.
- Clonal type (AV II) is required – at least 25% at high altitude. (Like the Tingling Division Of Singbulli Tea Estate)
- Average temperatures should remain between 5 and 20°C throughout the season.
Lower elevation gardens can produce teas of similar appearance, but the flavour differs greatly from the main characteristics of oolong tea.
Darjeeling oolong teas are made from finely plucked leaves, usually two leaves and a bud, and are sometimes withered naturally in sun and air. The withered leaves get hand-rolled and pan-fired at certain temperatures. This can also be done in machine: withered in trough, lightly rolled in a rolling machine and fired at 220°C in a quality dryer with faster run-through, depending on the leaves used.
When Darjeeling teas are sold, they are graded by size and quality. The grades fall into four basic groups: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings, and dust.
- SFTGFOP: Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe indicates it contains many tips and is long and wiry in appearance. The liquors are lighter in color.
- FTGFOP: Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
- TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
Broken leaf consists of small tea leaves or pieces of large leaves.
- FTGBOP: Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
- TGBOP: Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
- FBOP: Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
- BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe
Fannings consists of even smaller leaf sizes than the brokens.
- GFOF: Golden Flowery Orange Fannings
- GOF: Golden Orange Fannings
Dust, the lowest grade, consists of small pieces of tea leaves and tea dust.
- D: Dust
The many tea estates (also called "tea gardens") in Darjeeling each produce teas with different characteristics in taste and aroma. The Touzi Section of the West Bengal government deals with the control and supervision of all tea gardens in the district of Darjeeling as per the provisions of West Bengal Estates Acquisition Act, 1953. All the tea gardens are leased out for a term of 30 years as per Form I, Schedule F of the WBEA Act. The Touzi Section realizes revenues in the form of land rent, penalty, and fines payable by a tea garden to the Collector.
Some of the popular estates include:
- Happy Valley
- Kaley Valley
- Kanchan View
- Margaret's Hope
- Mission Hill
- Nagri Farm
- Orange Valley
- Runglee Rungliot
- Teesta Valley
- Tongsong Dtriah
- Upper Fagu
- Vah Tukvar