CHAMPAGNE OF TEAS
During spring in the Himalayas, the sun-spun rain falls gently on the mountains.When magical mists rise like divine dragons from the forests, that is when the mystique of Himalayan Dorjeeling is created.
Himalayan Dorjeeling tea is grown in the Himalayan foothills at an altitude of 700-2100 meters above the mean sea level, known as Darjeeling tea to the rest of the world. It is the most sought-after brand by all tea connoisseurs from the whole world for its exotic flavor, making it one of the most exclusive and costly tea in the world. Tea connoisseur asserts that without a taste of Darjeeling tea, it would be like wine without the prestige of Champagne.
The credit solely goes to skilled labourers for crafting such delectable tea, conserving the glory and taste loved by all for its unique musky fragrance, ever since it has been crafted. From the British colonial era, till date, labourers work through the precarious and challenging steep terrains of the Himalayas to produce the finest black, Oolong, green and white teas.
The district is governed by the state of West Bengal and is proclaimed as a UNESCO world heritage site covering 10,58 square kilometers, approximately. The whole region houses 87 tea estates which together with big tract of forest cover a large part of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, the Duars and the Terai. The Lepcha term, Dorjee for thunder and ling for the place, it is basically a description of a place struck by thunder during ancient times and considered holy by the residents.
The favourable natural conditions like the optimum altitude, moist and cool weather and abundant annual rainfall entail the secret in the taste of Darjeeling tea. With the fertile and sloping terrains capable of natural drainage, Darjeeling has crafted the 'champagne' for almost two centuries now, whose produce includes not only high-quality oolong and black tea, but also green and white tea, gaining popularity among all.
Darjeeling tea is classified according to its harvesting seasons and it contains its unique taste and flavour due to the collective labour of hardworking women labourers. These women (and few men) toil throughout the year to delicately pluck the tender two leaves and a bud and also maintain the health and fertility of the vast expanse of the tea gardens. The exclusiveness in the taste of the buds is retained by the application of conventional orthodox techniques developed during the 1800s, in contrary to the CTC (crush tear and curl) methods used by the modern tea companies.
Darjeeling tea is classified as follows:
The call of spring after the dormancy of winter marks the beginning of the first plucking phase in the tea calendar. The manifestation of a magical awakening of the hills by the sprouting buds resurrecting the entire hills and valleys with gleamy green color defines life in Darjeeling. The hustle and bustle of the women during early hours hurrying to the gardens to pluck the overnight magic of bloomy shoots reminds everyone in the tea garden of a delicious cup of spring flush tea.
Experts assert that more than twenty-two thousand ''Two leaves and a bud'' are required to produce a kilo of Darjeeling First Flush tea. With an elaborate treatment during the production stages, owing to the character of the leaves, the flush is processed until the mid or the end of April.
The lime greenish tinge and the exquisite floral fragrance is the distinguishing feature of the infusion characterized by yellow, clear, subtly floral, lightly astringent, muscat grape-esque tea profile imparting a lively character to the first flush tea. It is sought for its finest aroma and diverse advantages to our health.
Renowned summer teas are produced after a halt of about a month after the first flush production. Similar to the Muscat grapes for producing muscatel wines in America, the summer flush glistens with its deliciously moist and juicy leaves in the entire Darjeeling region. With slightly bigger leaves, the summer flush imparts a slightly darker colour to the infusion than the first flush. Harvested from May till June, it results in an aromatic brew with a distinctive musky taste as a characteristic feature of the fantastic second flush tea. The quality of the labour input is also a determining factor in the quality of the tea produced, thereby fetching the best price in the world tea markets. Good tea falls short of supply no sooner than the production is over.
As the name suggests, monsoon flush is plucked during the peak of the rain season between July and September. The fully grown juicy leaves contain more moisture, resulting in a good and strong brew with a dark coppery colour due to the torrential rainfall during monsoon. Milk tea, locally known as ''dud ko chia'' (some prefer adding spices or honey), can be prepared very well with the monsoon flush, owing to its intensity of taste and coffee like colour of the infusion. The preference lies entirely in the choice of the consumer. Some like it with sugar and milk, and some simply long for the taste of the pure tender leaves.
The summer sun and the monsoon rain treats the plants efficiently, balancing the perfect taste of Autumn flush teas. It is the ideal strength of this infusion, with a hue that brilliantly glimmers with a light-brownish yet coppery glow, that reveals its hearty and delightful aroma and makes one appreciate the specialty of the Autumn Flush. The sensation of Autumn flush tea is very different than that of the First, Second and Monsoon flushes, making it as prominent as the other flushes. The global prominence of Darjeeling tea and its acknowledgment as the finest tea is due to its unique flavour, which cannot be replicated anywhere around the world. Grown in the mystical mountains under supernatural conditions, and cared for by the most hardworking folks, Darjeeling tea has no equal. Over a century old tea gardens, practicing the traditional methods of production, where the tea bushes are nurtured by intermittent rainfall, sunshine, and moisture-laden mellow mists, Darjeeling is home to the finest tea in the world. The pluckers pluck only the finest ''two leaves and the bud'' to enhance the unique flavour. Approximately 10-12 million Kgs of Darjeeling Tea is produced annually by the Darjeeling region and is the most exclusive and desirable tea in the whole world.