Why is Darjeeling the Champagne of Teas?

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One of the most well known, and perhaps one of the most well-liked, teas in the world is Darjeeling Tea. Hailing from the West Bengal region of India, Darjeeling tea usually refers to an aromatic, musky black tea, but in recent years has also come to include other varieties like green and Oolong depending on their level of oxidation.

The cultivation of tea plants arrived in Darjeeling district in 1841 when British surgeon Archibald Campbell started experimenting with tea seeds he brought over from China. To this day Darjeeling tea is therefore made from the smaller leaf Chinese variant of the tea plant Camelia Sinensis. The first and largest Darjeeling plantation that was established is the Puttabong (or formerly named Tukvar) Tea estate that was planted in 1852. The tea garden stretches over 20 square miles and is situated in the northern district of the Darjeeling hills.

Darjeeling, the Champagne of Teas

Darjeeling tea is harvested in several different seasons, all with its own unique characteristics. During the first flush, or “spring tea”, the more delicate leafs are harvested in the months of March and April, giving the tea a more gentle color and aroma. Then there is an in-between period. The second flush is harvested in June and gives the tea a fuller taste. Leaves harvested during Monsoon or rain periods are less damaged and therefore better oxidized. Finally, the Autumn flush is much darker and fuller while retaining its delicate flavor.

Interestingly, because Darjeeling tea is highly sought after for its excellent quality it has fallen victim to counterfeiters. It is technically prohibited for any tea that isn’t produced in the region to call or brand itself as a Darjeeling tea, not unlike restrictions on using the name “Champagne”. However, while the region only produces around 10.000 tonnes annually around 40.000 tonnes circulate the market every year. To combat this deceitful practice the Tea Board of India established a Darjeeling logo through which consumers can verify whether they are purchasing real Darjeeling tea.

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