Knowledge is a spiral. It goes round and round and up and up. You get an opportunity, too, to look down at a lower spot on that spiral, to compare what you knew then to what you know now, and thus to revisit some subject and see it afresh. Such it has been with my earlier adventures with teas from Darjeeling in India.
|A Darjeeling oolong
(photo by A.C. Cargill, used with permission)
Darjeeling is a state in northern India in the foothills of the Himalayas. When Robert Bruce of Scotland originally was able to smuggle tea plants (Camellia Sinensis v. sinensis) out of China, this was where he and others began planting them. Something about the soil, the elevation, the growing environment seemed to be very suitable for tea. And the surprising thing was that these tea leaves would have a very unique character to their flavor, one that many tea connoisseurs called “winey” or “Muscatel.” However, Darjeeling teas aren’t as straightforward as they may seem at first.
Yes, there are the fruity Darjeelings (the ones that some tea shop staff confuse with those fruit flavored teas out there). But more and more alternatives are coming to the attention of devotees of this type of tea. There are white, green, and oolong versions being produced.
That means our knowledge of and/or assumptions about teas from this part of India and produced from the sinensis varietal of the tea plant needs expanding, calling for a revisit to this class of teas overall. They are in essence Chinese teas but yet not Chinese teas. It all depends on how you look at it. Going by the varietal versus going by the location where grown.
Here’s a closer look at some of these “other Darjeelings” that aren’t as well-known as the ones most often used in the blends sold as “Darjeeling tea”:
- White — An example is called “Pearl” from the Arya Tea Garden. This tea is totally hand made from 1st flush tender clonal “two leaves and a bud” tea leaves. They have a very fresh sweet aroma that can be a bit flowery. The almost colorless liquid has a sweet nectar flavor with hints of vegetable to the aroma.
- Green — Just like with other green teas, this one is unoxidized and has gone through a “kill-green” process to keep it that way. A fine one comes from the Makaibari Estate that exhibits a lot of the same qualities as black Darjeeling teas except for being unoxidized. The liquid is gentle in flavor and easy to drink with slightly lemony, vegetal, and earthy qualities.
- Oolong — Many insist that oolongs from Darjeeling are not true oolongs, like those from Taiwan and China. There are actual 2 types: clonal (totally different from Taiwanese oolongs) and Chinese (very similar to Taiwanese oolongs). Normally, the Darjeeling Chinese oolong that is made from 2nd flush leaves is the more popular with a dark orange liquid that has a thicker mouthfeel and that characteristic Muscatel quality. The clonal version is flowery/spicy and not as popular. The gardens at higher elevations are the best for growing them. The leaves are withered, hand-rolled, pan-fired, lightly rolled by machine, and finally fired at 220°C.
You can see that the connection between this Chinese varietal grown in the Darjeeling area and in China is pretty strong but still different, with their own versions of white, green, and oolong for you to try and compare with the more standard black Darjeeling teas available.