In Part One, I likened the flavor and drinking experience of blended teas to a symphony–many elements working in harmony for an immersing experience. If drinking a blended tea is like listening to a symphony, then drinking a great single estate tea is like listening to a virtuosic soloist. With single estate teas, you get a chance to understand the flavors, characteristics, processing techniques and ups and downs of a specific tea garden in a pure, unadulterated form.
As I mentioned in the previous installment, differing weather and growing conditions can result in different teas with each harvest. The beauty of drinking single estate tea is that every harvest is different. Each time you purchase a new batch, you’re in for at least some degree of surprise. Not every harvest will be the best, but as you try a few, you can
begin to understand what specific characteristics make, say, Borengajuli Assam different from Tarajulie Assam. I personally love drinking single estate teas because they’re like people; although they have defining characteristics, they’re also complex and many-layered, and sometimes it takes time and attention to really understand them. Not all tea drinkers are interested in concentrating intensely on their cup of tea, and not every cup of tea should be scrutinized with rapt attention, but single estate teas afford tea enthusiasts an opportunity to really pursue a tea to its fullest extent.
One of my favorite aspects of single estate teas is the seasonal variation between harvests. With Darjeelings, for example, there are three main harvests or “flushes”–First Flush (Spring), Second Flush (Summer), and what is usually called Autumn Flush. If you find a Darjeeling estate you enjoy, you may be able to try all three flushes and see how the character of the leaves changes throughout the seasons. Earlier flushes tend to be lighter, sweeter and more delicate, but for some teas I actually prefer a second or
autumnal flush because the body tends to be fuller. Likewise, Taiwanese and Chinese oolongs are often harvested multiple times a year–Taiwanese Baozhong oolong, for instance, is said to have its best fragrance in the spring harvest, whereas the flavor and mouth feel reach their peak in winter harvests.
Although single estate teas are more subject to the elements, they offer us a chance to form a real connection to the teas we drink, making every session similar to sitting down with an old friend. If you drink tea from the same estate for several years, you get a sense of the place where the tea originated in a way that you really can’t with a blended tea. Indeed, many Darjeeling drinkers may tell you that they’d give up English Breakfast tea for life if they could trade it for a lifetime’s supply of “the one”–the harvest of their favorite Darjeeling that was simply perfect. Fortunately for us, we can have both–if you’ve never tried single estate tea, now is the perfect time to start!
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