The climate and terroir in Darjeeling is perfect for the cultivation of the Chinese variety ofcamellia sinensis. In fact “Darjeeling Tea” can only carry that name if it was grown from these plants, and solely in that region. Such controls have continued to ensure that these teas remain of the very highest quality and demand the very highest prices.
More than half of all Darjeeling teas are sold at auction, the buying fraternity having had ample opportunity to taste the samples before the hammer falls. This ensures that the standard remains high, and that the market price for the tea is appropriately set.
The soil, mildly acidic, is rich in minerals, sufficiently sandy to allow drainage, while dense enough to hold an appropriate volume of water. Rainfall is perfect. The right quantity falls for each of the four harvesting periods, with massive monsoon rains, hitting the Himalayas, deposit 75% of the region’s rain between June & September.
Most teas across the world are manufactured using a heavily automated process of ‘crushing, tearing and curling’ the broken leaf. This encourages a fast fermentation, and optimises the dry leaf particles for fast infusion. All Darjeeling teas are processed for export using the time-honoured Orthodox process of rolling and twisting the whole leaf before selective cutting, drying and firing. These produce a much wider spectrum of flavours, subtle, floral and elegant.
As I travel to India this week, stay tuned for more updates. I plan to visit 9 estates across the region, tasting the ‘First Flush’ harvest as I go.