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Darjeeling is a district in the north east section of India. It is located in the state of West Bengal in India and comprises the foothills of the Himalayas.
Darjeeling tea is renowned for its high quality and is the basis of many famous blends. Darjeeling tea plantations are between 1000 and 2000 meters in altitude with ideal climatic conditions for producing first-grade tea.
History of Tea in Darjeeling
Tea was first introduced in the Darjeeling area in 1841. Seeds from China were successfully planted and by 1852 several plantations had been developed which had been planted with Assam and Chinese tea.
Thanks to the high quality of tea from these initial plantings, tea production continued to increase so that by 1870 there was 71,000 kg of tea produced from 56 separate tea gardens.
Although tea had never before been grown in the Darjeeling area, it was well-known to the native population. A thriving trade route between Darjeeling and Tibet had been in existence for hundreds of years, and one of the trading commodities was black tea pressed in the form of bricks.
Current Darjeeling Tea Production
Darjeeling tea plantations (or tea gardens) are large-scale operation. Each tea garden employs about 1500 workers who live on the estate with their families. Tea gardens have their own schools and clinics which are accessible free of charge for all employees and their families.
Tea season is from February to November with the first flush (the Easter flush) appearing from early March to mid-April. Due to unpredictable weather conditions, the first flush can be either the best or the worst flush of the season. If it is a good year the first flush will be in demand throughout the world and can command high prices.
The second flush (Spring flush) is from May to June and is also a very high-quality tea. The summer flush is the lowest quality of the year, but the Autumn flush from October to November is also a high-quality tea.
Processing Darjeeling Tea
The finest Darjeeling tea is plucked with the bud and two leaves but lesser grades include up to four leaves with the bud.
After plucking the tea leaves are withered between 18 and 24 hours. The tea leaves are placed on large racks and air is allowed to circulate so that excess moisture is removed from the tea.
The next step is to roll the leaves so that the leaves are bruised and allowed to oxidize. There are up to 4 rolling cycles and the leaves may be separated into various grades after each cycle.
After rolling the leaves are left to oxidize (ferment) for about 3 or 4 hours. During this period the leaves will change to a reddish brown color.
The final step in processing Darjeeling tea is to heat it in large dryers. This will stop the oxidation and also reduce the moisture content down to the desired level of about 20%. The leaves are dried for about 20 to 30 minutes at around 240 degees Fahrenheit.
The result is a fine quality tea that gives Darjeeling tea a worldwide reputation for excellence. This high quality comes at a cost - Darjeeling tea has extremely low yields with only about 10 million kilograms of tea being produced each year.
Video - Goomtee Tea Estate, Darjeeling
Video courtesy of Sebastian Beckwith - truetea.com