In March and then again in June of 2019, our buyers embarked on the journey into the Golden Valley of famed Darjeeling teas with our partners at Chamong Tea Group. There is a peak quality period of the Darjeeling 2nd Flush between the last few days of May into the first part of June. When the Darjeeling 1st Flush harvest is light and bright with high floral, citrusy, or delicate stone fruit notes, then the 2nd Flush will exhibit with a ripe and coppery, juicy, nectar-like presence.
Our anticipated Darjeeling 2nd Flush crop features teas with a deeper, amber golden infusion compared to the brilliant golden infusion of the Darjeeling 1st Flush. The two flushes of tea follow a very similar processing style beginning with harvest, followed by a carefully-monitored indoor wither, rolling, oxidation, which the tea makers skillfully evaluate. The process concludes with oven baking to finalize the drying process.
Though the steps in processing are nearly identical, there are a few elemental differences. During the summer months, the climate is much warmer, with higher ambient temperatures found in the processing rooms, which affects the oxidation during these stages. The change in temperature increases the rate of oxidation, as well as the nuance of the piling and the amount of tea rolled at a time. The second flush has much larger rollers with more pressure applied to reveal the succulent caramelized fruit notes, as well as developing the rich, deeper color of the tea when brewed.
Our buyers had a lot of fun with the tea pluckers in Darjeeling. The women work diligently and joyously, climbing the steep ridges of the gardens. Tons of laughs and positive vibes were shared, which is something our buyers value. It is important to connect and share time with those who are so intimately related to the quality and energy of the tea we all love and enjoy. Every two leaves and a bud pluck is selected by these amazing women before the manufacturing process described in the previous paragraphs can even begin.
Each lot is very unique, and we have four lots of the same cultivar from different gardens and one other blend of cultivars from separate gardens. Our Tumsong, Lingia and Marybong teas are from the Golden Valley, while the Chamong teas are from gardens to the south in the Rongbong Valley next to Selimbong. While cultivar selection is a factor, the real complexity of Darjeeling teas is to be explored in terms of the terroir. The differences of elevation, the grade of the slope and the amount of sun exposure lead to distinctive differences in character. Each garden has a signature aroma profile.
The flagship garden of the estate, Chamong, became a tea plantation around 1871. Chamong is set into the side of a hill, with altitude ranges from 1150-1850 meters above sea level. As with much of the land, the property has great-biodiversity. Chamong is surrounded by towering, deciduous forests that are home to monkey tribes. The character of tea from Chamong is distinct, and we are tasting caramelized peach in our Chamong DJ54.
The Lingia Tea Estate’s history began in 1867 with two German missionaries planting tea on the land. Formerly, the area was called Ling-ge a Lepcha word, meaning “triangle of 8 peaks,” and the estate’s altitude ranges from 850 masl to 1830 masl. Most of the tea bushes we find in this garden are the China leaf variety, which is genetically most similar to the rose bush of all tea plants cultivars. The tea in this garden is renowned for its rose flavors and aromas that are not produced in any other Darjeeling property. Lingia is, as are all of the other gardens in the Chamong Estate, fueled by hydro power plants.
The tea from the Marybong Estate is grown at about 5,000 feet above sea level. This steep sloped section of the Salu Division within the estate is populated with China Bush cultivar tea plants more than 100 years old. These bushes yield fruity, juicy, and floral teas in the 2nd Flush. Depending on the crop, the teas can taste of nectarine, jasmine, frangipani or wild rose. The quality is at its prime for the brief period of time before the monsoons. The Marybong selection we are presenting has a ripe, white nectarine profile with fleeting jasmine aromas.
Tumsong directly faces the highest Himalayan ranges, and its vertically slanted gardens receive cool mountain air flow that nurture the teas. The Tumsong Garden is noted for aromatics featuring iris, orchids and wild flowers with elegance of tannin and Muscatel grape flavor. The majestic mountain ranges give this garden a special and unique energy. The Tumsong Estate was established in 1867, and the old growth of China cultivar bushes have deep roots and Qi, or life-energy, that reflect their lineage. The concept to note in this garden are the numerous microclimate ranges—a great illustration of terroir. Different grades of slopes and fluctuating levels of sun exposure in each garden’s divisions allow for every plantation to vary from one another, even though they are in close proximity.
During the 2nd flush, just before the monsoons, many of the gardens are partially attacked by thrips, which are slender, tiny insects that feed on the water and succulence in the tender stems, new buds, and leaf shoots of the tea plants. The leaves that are attacked by these insects are plucked and included in the total garden’s daily harvest. The insects are part of the artistic tea process to create fruity teas and their attacks initiate a unique withering process that activates before the leaves are plucked. The leaves that are nipped by thrips begin to wither and oxidize on the bush. In our selection from the Marybong Estate that overlooks the Lingia Garden, we see this idiosyncrasy.
The insect-attack anomaly has been studied in Darjeeling’s 2nd Flush harvest and in a couple Taiwan oolong, all of which are made with leaves that have been consumed by these insects. The tea leaves develop unique “fresh leaf volatiles “ and result in Muscatel grape and stone fruit flavors with flowery essences in Darjeeling and wildflower honey flavors and lan hua xiang orchid aromas found in Taiwan Eastern Beauty Oolong and Taiwan Dong Ding Gui Fei Oolong. These “fresh leaf volatiles”, as researchers call them create the famous “Darjeeling Muscatel” note and are similar to volatiles found in neroli, rose, jasmine, a range of citrus, mango, and even varied tropical flowers and orchids. The Darjeeling 2nd Flush teas are quite extraordinary and the thrips’ anomaly is only one of the many factors that shapes the peak quality Darjeeling character.
Darjeeling tea is a Geographically Indicated product. The World Intellectual Property Organization defines a GI by: “a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to origin… Since the quality depends on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between product and this original place of production.”
In our next entry, we feature a tasting guide to our 1st and 2nd flush Darjeeling teas, as well as a cold brew sequence that highlights the preparation of Chamong and Marybong teas in this method. We hope you can experience the majesty of nuance of these truly special teas.