If you buy a kilo of Darjeeling (DJ) tea, it will be of a certain varietal, and a certain grade, from a certain day in the year’s manufacture, from a certain garden.
I advise you make certain regarding all those ‘certains’.
Grade (FTGFOP etc.) is according to particle size and the mechanized and hand sorting processes, and is important, but does not describe how good the cup is. That’s up to the plant, and you, or me, or others, oh, and the time of year, and who did what for this cup.
Darjeeling is a hill station, which means it is an upper altitude retreat from the summer heat of the plains of West Bengal, including Calcutta (now Kolkata). They picked a good spot. I don’t know whether they said “holiday”, or “tea” first. Tea and DJ came to be synonymous. Tea loves rain and water. Seeds from China were selected for Darjeeling. Later came hybrids and clones. The 2 leaves and a bud ‘plucking standard’ tradition of ‘orthodox’ production was maintained but the British introduced mechanized ‘Britannia Rollers’ and various sorting machines and ovens around 1870.
Now, Darjeeling has a cache. Let’s be clear, Darjeeling is not “rare”. It is not “exotic”. It is not mysterious. It is however, misunderstood. The best batch of the year has a value of 50 times the most mundane batch, with every sort of quality distribution in-between. Quality starts with the garden manager and the pruning and plucking, The machinery comes next.
It is lovely. There are notes, in sequences. Sipping a type of music. Goes well with friends.
This web log will be taking steps, one by one, toward explaining Darjeeling tea. We’ll go into organics in the next post.