First flush Darjeeling teas are like Beaujolais Nouveau wines: Everyone waits for them with great anticipation. They’re not necessarily the best teas of the year – I prefer second flushes or autumnals myself – but they do serve as an indicator of how good these later flushes will be.

After hearing stories earlier this year about the difficult, dry growing season in Darjeeling, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Once the harvest began, however, reports of some very worthy teas began to trickle out of the Himalayas. And so I ordered three of them from different gardens, and came to the conclusion that, while this is not an exceptional year, the 2012 first flush has produced some rather fine teas. The ones I sampled were fragrant to the nose and smooth in the cup – no trace of that mint-like “bite” that you sometimes get with a first flush Darjeeling. I sampled the three individually and then all together using Brita filtered water and an approximately 3-1/2 minute steep with 190 to 200-degree F water.

My notes on the specific varieties:

Castleton: The most fragrant of the three in both dry leaf and cup. A nut-like quality in the taste. Slightly earthy, or perhaps woodsy would be more accurate. Very smooth. The teas from this garden have in my experience tended to be somewhat hit or miss. This one is most definitely a hit, and I look forward to even better teas later this year.

2012 Castleton First Flush

2012 Castleton First Flush

Jungpana: A long-time favourite garden since sampling an ethereal first flush at the Harney Tea Conference in 1998. (Yes, it really was that memorable!) This garden has had its ups and downs over the years since then, but always seems to produce an enjoyable cup. The aromatic dry leaf is fluffier than the other two. Woodsy and slightly spiced in the cup, with a long finish hinting at the muscatel of future flushes. For those who are interested in such things, Jungpana garden is now certified organic.

2012 Jungpana First Flush

2012 Jungpana First Flush

Phoobsering: I don’t recall ever having sampled teas from this garden before, but I will certainly be looking for them in future. The most colourful leaves of the three – shades of green and silver – and almost as fragrant as the Castleton. The cup delivers a subtle berry-like taste with a floral subtext. Quite nice. Phoobsering is another certified organic garden.

2012 Phoobsering First Flush

2012 Phoobsering First Flush

Here is the steeping results of each:

In the cup, ready to sample, left to right: Castleton, Jungpana, Phoosbering.

In the cup, ready to sample, left to right: Castleton, Jungpana, Phoosbering.

Here are the spent leaves that produced the above liquid:

Spent leaf, upper left is Jungpana, upper right is Phoosbering, bottom is Castleton.

Spent leaf, upper left is Jungpana, upper right is Phoosbering, bottom is Castleton.

So there you have it: All in all a good year for Darjeeling first flushes, with a promise of some very fine teas to come in later flushes.

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