Of all of the great tea-growing regions in the world, Darjeeling is not really among the more significant – at least not in quantity of tea produced. When it comes to the quality of the modest amounts of tea produced there, that’s a different story. As much or perhaps even more so than any other tea region, Darjeeling is associated with a high-quality premium tea that’s beloved by connoisseurs. So much so that the tea grown there is often referred to by the nickname The Champagne of Tea.
Darjeeling is one of the three primary tea-growing regions in India. The others are Nilgiri and Assam, with the latter being one of the world’s top tea-producing regions overall. Darjeeling is located in the northeastern corner of India, in the state of West Bengal, and in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Tea cultivation first came to the Darjeeling region a little bit later than it did to Assam. In 1841, one Dr. Campbell, of the Indian Medical Service, planted tea seeds from China at his home in Darjeeling. Despite the relatively high elevations and cool temperatures tea plants thrived there and as the years passed more growers came on board.
Like the other growing regions in India, Darjeeling has always been known primarily for its black tea. It’s a lighter, more fragrant grade than that grown in Nilgiri and especially more so than in Assam, which is known for producing a very robust, full-flavored tea. Darjeeling tea is produced in a first and second flush – or harvest – the latter of which tends to be preferred by many tea drinkers. The flavor of most Darjeeling tea is unlike any other black tea and tends toward astringency, with a unique flavor component most often described as muscatel.
When buying Darjeeling tea, probably more so than any other variety, it’s a good idea to purchase it from a reputable merchant. Because most of the tea produced there is of a valuable, premium grade there is typically much more so-called Darjeeling tea sold every year than is actually produced in the region.
Toasting in the New Year with the “Champagne of Teas”
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