The Colors of Darjeeling Tea Leaves

A “generic” Darjeeling (flush and garden not specified) showing leaf color variations. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
A “generic” Darjeeling (flush and garden not specified) showing leaf color variations. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Those of you who are used to black teas and green teas might wonder at the colors of Darjeeling tea leaves, with their varied hues. They certainly were a surprise and delight to hubby and me when we tried our first sample. And a bit puzzling.

Not all Darjeeling teas look this way since some are processed as white, green, and oolong teas. The ones processed as black teas usually do. (Although many Darjeeling teas are marketed commercially as “black teas,” almost all of them have oxidation that is less than 90%, so they are technically more oolong than black.) The hues can range from red/rust and dulled green to dark brown. These colors can really be seen after steeping when the leaf pieces have absorbed water and swollen back up to their original size.

A “specific” Darjeeling (flush and garden specified) showing leaf color variations. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
A “specific” Darjeeling (flush and garden specified) showing leaf color variations. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

So, why this color variation? Do the leaves go through some special processing that turns some leaves one color and other leaves another color? Do they employ “leaf colorists” who add coloring to different batches of tea leaves and then mix them together? Well, actually, that last one is pretty close to the theory I saw recently — the age of the tea plant makes the difference.

The tea plants that are currently growing and being harvested in Darjeeling tea gardens are of differing ages, with some being as much as a century old (there were about 39 gardens growing tea on a commercial basis in 1866) and others being only a few years old. The leaves grown on and harvested from these plants are said to oxidize at different rates.

Not all Darjeelings have that varied color appearance. This is a white Darjeeling tea. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)
Not all Darjeelings have that varied color appearance. This is a white Darjeeling tea. (Photo source: A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Other experts say it has to do with overall leaf quality, which may or may not be related to the age of the plant from which the leaves are harvested. Some vendors say the difference is due to blending. Many Darjeeling teas appear to be a blend of teas oxidized to levels of green, oolong, and black.

Whatever the reason, the leaves steep up a wonderfully fruity tea liquid that is unmatched in the world of tea.

Other teas have this color variation, too, but that’s another article.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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3 thoughts on “The Colors of Darjeeling Tea Leaves

  1. darjeelingteas

    Good post on the colours of Darjeeling Tea leaves.
    Just wanted to add one more thing which I learnt from a 70+ Indian tea expert from Australia.
    Aside from First flush leaves, the steeped leaves of which are predominantly green, the infused leaves of good quality Darjeeling black tea has to have a coppery colour like a dime.
    Any other colours may also be because of the inconsistency that the lot may have had at the hands of the processor.
    Would love to see an indepth article.
    🙂

    1. A.C. Cargill

      I looked online for something indepth on this topic and could not find anything. One reason I wrote this was to encourage someone to write about the topic in more detail.

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