TEA KNOWLEDGE

Darjeeling Tea

WHAT IS DARJEELING TEA?

Darjeeling tea is a premium tea produced in the highlands of the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, a state in the Eastern Province of India.

Of all teas grown in India, Darjeeling tea distinguishes itself in terms of quality and flavor, and for more than a century has enjoyed a worldwide reputation.

In general, there are two factors that contributed to the exceptional and distinctive flavor of Darjeeling tea, namely:

  • Geographical origin
  • processing.

The tea gardens are located at an altitude of over 2000 meters above sea level.

Although the tea growing lands of India have been almost synonymous with the most popular lower quality teabag brands , which has eestablised themselves in both the top and bottom of the tea beverage market, there is far more to Indian tea than low quality dust tea.

Darjeeling tea only began to sprout from the Himalayan soils of West Bengal, India in the second half of the 19th century, when a seed trader returned to the region after a trip to China. Since then, this exclusive type of black tea deriving from a particular variety of Camellia Sinensis – a plant known for producing most black, green, white and oolong teas – has been grown in the region.

Only a few tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills of India can call their product by name, Darjeeling tea varies greatly in flavor depending on a handful of factors.

Darjeeling tea has five distinct harvests per year, with each season bringing its own flavor profile and body. While Darjeeling is typically classified as black tea, there are also green, white, and oolong interpretations of it.

Today, Darjeeling Tea is often synonymous to High Quality, First Flush and Second Flush Teas, from this special region.

THE MEANING OF DARJEELING TEA

In the world of tea, numerous regions grow and brew tea. Much of their names refer to the region where the tea is grown. Darjeeling tea is one such tea grown in the Himalayan belt of India, the beautiful Darjeeling Hills. Hence, the name Darjeeling.

Darjeeling is one of the few teas with a certificate of origin. Since 1999, only tea produced in the 87 registered gardens in the region can be labeled “Darjeeling,” although checks are inadequate and counterfeiting is rife; far more tea is sold as Darjeeling than these estates could produce. To add to the confusion, in some countries where they are exported, blenders may label much tea as Darjeeling if 51% or more of the leaves are from Darjeeling.

In order to be called Darjeeling, a tea must come from the Darjeeling district of the Indian state of West Bengal. “Darjeeling tea” is a legally protected geographical name for tea grown and produced in a well-defined region called “Darjeeling”. This situation is similar to the name “Champagne”, which is a sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France. Sparkling wines produced in other parts of the world cannot be called “champagne”.

Virtually any tea from the region can be designated as Darjeeling, which these days can mean a wide variety of white, oolong and green teas, in addition to the traditional black teas. But when we speak of Darjeeling, we are referring primarily to one of four consecutive harvests, all from a single farm, that produce a distinctively aromatic, medium-light-bodied cup.

Some of the camellia sinensis leaves used are from Chinese stock: either the original seeds from China and transported to Darjeeling, or the offspring (seeds) of the original plants.

Other varieties are clones, that is, varieties bred by cuttings for specific flavor or growth characteristics. Although sinensis leaves is still the dominant type found on all farms in Darjeeling, most farms now have a small percentage of assamica leaves.

Production details vary throughout the year and have been incorporated into a range of styles known in the region as flush.

In general, “Darjeeling tea” refers to a light to medium bodied black tea with fruity and floral notes, and perhaps a hint of liveliness. The brewed beverage usually ranges in color from light gold to darker bronze and has a strong fruity aroma. It is often considered one of the best teas in the world.

Darjeeling Tea Plantation Gräfenhof Tee GmbH

Darjeeling Tea: Origins

Northeast India is one of the places where the tea plant Camellia sinensis is native. Records and folklore from the region attest to its use as a food and folk medicine centuries ago. However, it was only thanks to the colonial system that tea as an everyday beverage really became part of Indian culture.

The British Influence

The British couldn’t get enough of it (tea or colonialism), and even before defeating China in 1842 in the first Opium War – caused by a trade imbalance caused by their insatiable thirst for Chinese drink – they decided to grow Camellia sinensis var. sinensis in vast gardens in a sunny, low-lying region near the Himalayas called Assam. The native Assamese variety, however, eventually became better adapted to the tropical environment and became the species that is now widespread in the region.

The broad-leaved Assam plant produces a bold, bright, malty black tea that has become a trademark of Assam. In the cooler, more heady environment of Darjeeling, however, the small-leaved sinensis variety flourished, producing a tea with a delicate but complex floral and fruity aroma. These sinensis seeds were stolen from China in the late 1830s; at the time, China wisely guarded the tea plants and all knowledge of tea making as state secrets.

Archibald Campbell & British East India Company

It was first planted in Darjeeling in 1841 by Archibald Campbell, a civil surgeon in the Indian Medical Service.

A few years later, the British East India Company sent the Scottish botanist Robert Fortune to China on a mission to smuggle tea seeds and tea plants out of the country to enable the British to further conduct experiments with different tea plants in order to reach mass production.

A more detailed history of Darjeeling tea can be found in Jeff Koehler’s excellent book Darjeeling, but suffice it to say that in the 1850s, the British and a handful of Chinese planters in the area successfully began producing a distinctive black tea.

One thing to remember is that although the British colonial system was eventually overthrown by the Indian independence movement, the tea gardens in Darjeeling are run much as they were then. The workers live on the farm and the owner provides subsidies for housing, food, health care and education.

The processing machines are often more than a century old; shopkeepers still take notes in leather-bound ledgers and weigh tea leaves by hand using copper scales for tasting – a 25 paise coin (no longer in circulation, often covered with tape to protect it) weighing 2.8 grams.

The plots are proudly identified by each estate. Indian companies have replaced the British, and the once tiny hill stations of Kurseong, Kalimpong and Darjeeling are now crowded areas struggling to support a growing population on eroding hillsides. Yet, strictly in terms of tea, Darjeeling is alive and well.

Darjeeling: The Finest Tea

Darjeeling Teas are very Special!

Darjeeling is the highest tea in the world.

At this altitude, the tea plant has different environmental conditions: different day and night temperatures, different oxygen content in the atmosphere, different UV radiation for the tea plant and many other differences.

All these differences result in different leaves and a unique taste and aroma in the cup. The Chinese tea plant, Camellia sinensis sinensis, thrives very well under these conditions.

Why is Darjeeling Expensive?

The price of Darjeeling tea varies depending on the quality. You can get it at affordable prices, but if you are looking for the best Darjeeling tea quality, it will be more expensive. Yes, tea is produced in many tea plantations, but the production quantity is only 10 million kg per year.

The yield per hectare in the Darjeeling valleys is 500 kg of dry tea leaves. The lower-lying areas of the district produce about one-third of the many non-specialized Darjeeling products.

Only about 1 kg of finished Darjeeling is produced from 20,000 leaves that are individually hand-picked. The high cost of cultivation is one of the factors in the final product. The best Darjeeling tea is made from high quality tea leaves, such as cloned and Chinese leaves.

High quality Darjeelings undergo rigorous and efficient processing to maintain both the desired appearance and flavor. Low quality Darjeerling tea contains tea leaves that are not of good quality, such as teas from Assamica and teas produced during the rainy and banji seasons. Good quality tea is therefore expensive.

On the other hand, the unique and highly appreciated muscatel flavored teas also contribute to this growth, which are rare due to their low production. There is a considerable number of Darjeeling flavor addicts who enjoy it from the comfort of their homes. After all, thousands of team members work hard to produce this perfect brew.

Most of them sit on rocky slopes and pick the tea leaves for you. Imagine doing this in the rain and sunshine. The high price compensates a little for the above factors.

The Champagne Of Teas

Universally recognised and acclaimed as the world’s finest tea, Darjeeling tea known as the “champagne of teas” due to its authentic, exquisite taste and muscatel character that cannot be replicated or duplicated anywhere else in the world.

The reason why Darjeeling is an exclusive tea

Teas are consumed all over the world for different reasons: among the most famous are their therapeutic benefits, such as improving digestion, weight loss, etc. Some people are passionate about it, others are satisfied with sipping it and relaxing on the sofa.

On the other hand, Darjeeling, being a special tea, has an incomparable character and quality. In the ideal, dreamy and magical mountains, at altitudes ranging from 750 to 2000 meters, these bushes are grown in centuries-old tea plantations nourished and nurtured by incessant rains, golden sunshine and light mists.

The mountainous landscape provides a natural outlet for the intermittent rains that plague Darjeeling.

The pluckers are aware of the importance and reputation of this tea and pluck only the top bud and the two finest leaves to bring out the unique flavor of musk tea. The low yield is due to adherence to this high profile. Tea growers have resisted the temptation to increase yield at the expense of quality. They therefore strive to promote high quality tea despite high production costs.

Darjeeling tea owes its unique character to its musky flavor. According to the researchers, geraniol, linalool, terpenoids and certain fatty acid breakdown products contribute to the distinctive character and taste of Darjeeling tea.

The Volatile Tea

The study was conducted in Tocklai, and the results showed that Darjeeling is much stronger and more volatile than other teas. The Volatile Flavor Index (VFI) and monoterpene alcohol content are five times higher in hill Darjeeling than in the northeast lowlands.

Cold, dry, windy nights, wet and humid days, and relatively low temperatures throughout the year are responsible for the development of VFI. In addition, the genetic makeup of Chinery tea is conducive to the development of VFC.Thus, it can be said that the relationship and interaction of climate, soil and genotype produce the most famous tea in the world – the Champagne tea.

If You want to try one of our delicious Darjeeling’s, please visit our Darjeeling page!

Darjeeling Tea Types

DARJEELING FLUSH OR TEA SEASONS?

The term “Darjeeling Flush” can be confusing to the uninitiated, especially when it comes to Darjeeling tea. In tea, the tender part of the shoots that form the terminal bud, the internodes and the two or three leaves immediately below them form the fruit, the “flush.”

In Darjeeling, the term “flush” also refers to four distinct harvest periods spread throughout the year, known as the “Darjeeling flush”: the first, second, monsoon and fall periods.

The Five Harvests

First flush Darjeeling tea

The beginning of April usually marks the start of the annual harvest in Darjeeling. The tea bushes have been dormant over the winter and now that temperatures are starting to rise, new shoots are sprouting, full of nutrients that have been stored up for months. These young leaves are delicate, however, and need a lighter touch to bring out their fresh flavour and unique phenolic compounds.

Although usually classified as a black tea, Darjeeling First Flush should be in a category of its own, as there is no other tea like it. After harvesting, the fresh leaves are taken indoors and placed in wilting trays: long planks with grids at the bottom and fans at the end to circulate air through the leaves. If the weather is particularly hot or humid, these fans can blow warm air to speed up moisture loss, but under ideal conditions, hard wilting, as it is called, takes about 12 hours at room temperature. After that, the leaves are much softer and an intoxicating floral scent begins to develop.

The next step is to roll the leaves: this breaks down the cell walls, promotes the release of oxidising enzymes and redistributes the moisture, revealing the delicious juices. At this stage, the leaves are emptied into the huge cast iron tanks, which in many cases date back to the early days of Darjeeling. The pressure in the tank can be adjusted, which determines the force with which the leaf is pressed against the bottom plate, where it is kneaded on the raised ribs. It is believed that these special rollers are an essential element of the unique taste of Darjeeling teas.

The rolled leaves are then oxidised for a short time (usually no more than 15 minutes) or in some cases not at all.

The leaves are then spread in thin, even layers on metal belts and baked in a large oven, often for about 20 minutes at about 250°F. After the final sorting of the dried leaves by size and quality and the preparation of the individual bills, First Flush is ready for consumption.

This is very different from other forms of black tea production, where the rolled leaves oxidize for much longer. This long oxidation period allows the tannins, tea aromas and tea rubies to develop in the leaf, transforming the flavor from fresh and herbal to dark and fruity. Because this process occurs to very little extent in Darjeeling First Flush, the tea retains its spring-like character with notes of herbs, flowers and nuts, and is light golden in the cup.

Until the 1980s, Darjeeling First Flush was produced more like traditional black tea (like the Second Flush we know today), with a long leaf oxidation period favored by the Soviet Union, the largest importer of Darjeeling tea. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the Soviet tea market, and growers suddenly had to find other buyers for their spring batches. Some old German tea buyers, curious about a different flavor profile, began producing a new “light and bright” variety in cooperation with some growers.

According to one official, this matched the German preference for beer and wine: light and light. With their newfound purchasing power, the German market encouraged Darjeeling producers to reduce the oxidation time of premium teas to the point that it has almost disappeared; it is now the preferred and highly regarded standard.

Second Flush Darjeeling Tea

The leaves are then spread in thin, even layers on metal belts and baked in a large oven, often for about 20 minutes at about 250°F. After the final sorting of the dried leaves by size and quality and the preparation of the individual bills, First Flush is ready for consumption.

This is very different from other forms of black tea production, where the rolled leaves oxidize for much longer. This long oxidation period allows the tannins, tea aromas and tea rubies to develop in the leaf, transforming the flavor from fresh and herbal to dark and fruity. Because this process occurs to very little extent in Darjeeling First Flush, the tea retains its spring-like character with notes of herbs, flowers and nuts, and is light golden in the cup.

Until the 1980s, Darjeeling First Flush was produced more like traditional black tea (like the Second Flush we know today), with a long leaf oxidation period favored by the Soviet Union, the largest importer of Darjeeling tea. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the Soviet tea market, and growers suddenly had to find other buyers for their spring batches. Some old German tea buyers, curious about a different flavor profile, began producing a new “light and bright” variety in cooperation with some growers.

According to one official, this matched the German preference for beer and wine: light and light. With their newfound purchasing power, the German market encouraged Darjeeling producers to reduce the oxidation time of premium teas to the point that it has almost disappeared; it is now the preferred and highly regarded standard.

Second Flush Darjeeling Tea

Three weeks after the first harvest, the new buds have regenerated and the bushes are ready for the new crop. Appearing later in the spring, these leaves are in a more mature stage of growth, but still contain compounds that produce a rich, complex cup. This deeply fruity, spicy and musky character has become a hallmark of Darjeeling tea.

The second variety teas go through the same stages as the first variety teas, but each stage has different parameters: Spinning does not result in the same extreme moisture loss, rolling is more intense, the oxidation phase after rolling is more pronounced, and brewing can be hotter and longer.

Monsoon Darjeeling Tea


In June, the monsoon rains reach West Bengal, and the heavy rains burst the tea bushes. The new growth is fast and heavy, which is good for the plants but bad for the taste of the tea. Monsoon Darjeeling teas are usually thin and monochromatic in flavor, which does not mean they are bad, but they are suitable for small use. Their woody flavor is enhanced by milk and sugar, and since they sell at a fraction of the price of First and Second Flush, they are ideal for blends and tea bags.

Darjeeling Autumnal Flush


When conditions are favorable in October and November, plantations can produce an Autumnal Flush that resembles the character of Second Flush, but has a slightly less nuanced flavor and often a much lower yield. This style is relatively rare, and not just for agricultural reasons; autumn is an important vacation season for Nepalese and Bengali workers on western plantations.

Darjeeling Tea Grades

Darjeeling is mainly produced by the orthodox method that keeps the leaves whole during production. When it is sold, it is classified by size and quality. 

Fundamentally, there are four types of Darjeeling tea or tea types that are placed below. Remember that these specifications reflect only the size nomenclature of the tea leaves and not the quality aspect of the tea leaves.

How is Darjeeling Tea Graded?

With the help of oscillating mechanical sieves, the tea leaves are sorted into various types of tea by size.  The general types of tea or variations are determined according to the tea leaves size during the grading process.

TEA GRADE WHOLE LEAF SFTGFOP:

Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (SFTGFOP) indicates that it contains many long and wiry tips. When Brewed, it usually produces a lighter liquor, although the color depends upon the Darjeeling Flushes or tea season. 

Other whole leaf grades are: FTGFOP: Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP). 

The main difference between the Whole Leaf and Broken are the leaf size. They are graded according to the best quality.

TEA GRADE BROKEN LEAF FTGBOP:

Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (FTGBOP) tea leaves are smaller in size than the Super Fine Tippy grade and are graded in descending order of quality. The grade is usually determined during  the sorting and grading process. 

Other types of broken tea are: TGBOP: Tippy Golden Broken Pekoe Orange. FBOP: Blooming Broken Orange Pekoe. BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe.

TEA GRADE FANNINGS GFOF:

Golden Flowery Orange Fannings (GFOF) tea leaves are even smaller in size than the other brokens and are ranked in descending order of quality. Other grades of Darjeeling tea fan: GOF

TEA GRADE DUST (D):

This is the type of product commonly used in traditional tea bags around the world. This is a convenient way to make tea quickly, but this often results in a low quality cup of tea.  Tea dust is the lowest quality tea you would be brewing.

Other Important factors relating Darjeeling Tea grading and quality

The above gradations refer to leaf size alone and make no reference to differences in quality. All gradations are established and are the product of the evaluation process of the same tea leaf: the leaf of the camellia sinensis var. sinensis plant. 

In addition to these nomenclatures, sporadically suffixes such as China-(ch), Clonal-(cl), Special-(spl) are included (grade names mentioned are common in Margaret’s Hope Tea Garden production) etc., according to the practice of individual gardens. 

 Sometimes in tea gardens a numeral “1” is added after the grade name defining the maximum grade. The grades mentioned above are generalized grades or types of Darjeeling tea, all of which have major differences, especially with the different Darjeeling flows, First Flush, Second Flush and Autumn Flush.

The Darjeeling evolved and over time began to produce different varieties of tea. The traditional production of ” only Darjeeling black tea” is no more. Several tea gardens now produce extraordinary varieties of tea such as Darjeeling White Tea (for example, lovely Arya white teas) Darjeeling Oolong and Darjeeling Organic Green Tea.

 Darjeeling black tea is still somewhat the predominant variety produced in terms of bulk production. Some varieties have become a brand in their own right, such as the Darjeeling black variety, “Castleton Muscatel Tea” etc. This was a natural consequence of growing demand and concern for tea customers in different parts of the world.

Darjeeling Tea: Taste Profile

Darjeeling tea is a black tea and is often used as a base for masala chai and other flavored teas such as Earl Grey. This Indian black tea has a pronounced astringency due to the presence of tannins and a distinct sweet, musky and spicy flavor. The flavor profile changes in the first and second stage teas. First stage teas are generally sweeter, while later stage teas are astringent.

The unique flavor of Darjeeling tea comes from the fascinating process of cultivation. Insects such as locusts and thrips suck the sap from the tea leaves and cause minor damage. The plant responds by producing terpenes that repel these insects. The high content of terpenes is responsible for the musky taste of this Indian tea.

Darjeeling Teas at Gräfenhof 

, slightly sweeter notes – usually with a light, clean liquor (some varieties can be almost completely clean) and sweet aromas.. To learn more about the Gräfenhof Tea Selection, , visit our white tea product page.

Darjeeling Tea: Caffeine Content

All teas made from the Camellia sinensis species leaves, including Darjeeling, contain some caffeine.

In fact, some of the potential Therapeutic benefits of tea are attributed to its caffeine content (10Trusted Source).

One study found that 100 grams of Darjeeling tea contains an average of 1.7 grams of caffeine, which is higher than other Indian black teas tested in the same study (11Trusted Source).

Only about 7 grams of black tea are needed to make an average cup of tea. Therefore, an average cup of Darjeeling tea probably contains about 120 mg of caffeine, which is comparable to a cup of strong coffee.

Darjeeling Tea: Buying and storing

How should I store my Darjeeling tea?

For Darjeeling First Flush, the best answer is not at all, or as little as possible. First Flush teas are like extra virgin olive oil: they start out fresh and full of life, then fade with time. Early in the season, you’ll notice subtle changes in the brew from week to week, and although they store well, they peak as they approach harvest. Second-grade teas have a longer shelf life, but are generally enjoyable year-round.

Expose your tea to as little heat, light and air at home as possible. Store your tea in a sealed bag or airtight container that matches the size of the leaf in a cool, dry place where there are no strong odors – not in the kitchen cupboard with the light bulbs or in wooden cabinets with their characteristic smells.

  • Store your tea in a cool dry area.
  • Keep tea away from heat, light, oxygen and humidity and do not store it in the refrigerator.
  • Tea will keep longer if it is stored in an opaque, airtight container.
  • Do not store your tea in the same compartment as products such as coffee and spices, which can release their aroma into the tea leaves.

For more information about how to best care for your tea, visit our How to Store Tea page.

Darjeeling Tea: Preparation

The preparation of Darjeeling , which tends to over-brew, can be a misunderstood. If brewed too strongly, the flavor can quickly become astringent. However, when brewed with a little care, it makes an incredibly smooth cup.

Start in a pre-warmed pot, which should not be too small if possible. Darjeeling tends to do its best with a lower ratio of tea to water, so use an English pot and about half as many leaves as other black teas. Let the leaves steep without shaking them, taking a sip every 30 seconds or so to taste until the flavor is balanced. Then immediately pour the entire pot or remove the leaves.

And remember, taste is subjective. If a cup of Darjeeling tastes good, it’s well made.

To make a pot of Darjeeling tea

  • Boil fresh water in a kettle. Do not use water that has been boiled before, as this will change the taste of the tea.
  • If you are using premium Darjeeling tea, heat the water to 80-85°C. For the second rinse or the autumn rinse, heat the water to 85-95 °C.
  • Add one teaspoon per cup to the teapot.
  • If making an 8 ounce cup, add about 3 g of tea.
  • Pour the hot water into the teapot.
  • Let stand for 3 minutes.
  • Remove the strainer from the teapot. Use a hand strainer to pour the tea from the teapot into the cup.
  • Sugar and milk are optional. The best Darjeeling teas are consumed with milk and sugar and have a natural taste.
  • If you use Golden Tea Tips premium Darjeeling tea, you can steep the tea twice. Brew for 3 to 5 minutes.

How to make a cup of Darjeeling tea?

The best way to make tea is to use a cup with a tea infuser or a single tea infuser. This way you can easily make a perfect cup of Darjeeling tea that tastes wonderful and your friends, family or guests will praise your tea making skills.

  • Rinse the cup with hot water to warm it up.
  • Place the tea pot in the cup.
  • Add a spoonful of tea to the tea pot.
  • Pour in the freshly heated water.
  • Steep twice – for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Remove the infusion.
  • Now you can drink your tea.
  • More tips
  • Use filtered, unflavoured water.
  • Steep the leaves longer if you are making a second cup of tea.
  • Do not steep Darjeeling tea leaves in hot water. Cook them when they have cooled a little.
  • Store the Darjeeling teas in a cool, dry place in an airtight container to preserve the flavour and aroma.

Sources:

The World Tea Encyclopedia The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Louw Heiss and Robert J. Heiss, 2007
New Tea Lover’s Treasury by James Norwood Pratt, 199
Specialty Tea Institute

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