Tea Festival: Republic of Tea
Traveling The Gardens of India, taught by Barbara Graves, was one of the classes I had the pleasure to attend at this year's tea festival. Known as Minister of Commerce for the Republic of Tea Company, Barbara led us through Darjeeling and Assam.
Darjeeling means "Land of the Thunderbolt" and is 1,500 to 6,000 feet above sea level and very vertical. Tea has been grown there since 1830. Darjeeling is known as the Champaign of Teas as it is a very unique tea grown in a small area. This tea will never be confused with another. "The mist makes it special," says Barbara, when speaking about the climate.
Some facts: There are 1,000 acres to a garden; 1,600 workers plus another 500 during plucking. 4500 kilos are plucked per day! From what Barbara told us, the plantations here provide a good standard of living for the workers. Plucking from 8am-noon with an hour for lunch with grandmother and family members. Then more plucking 1-4 pm. (I thought, wow! Only an 8-hour work day!) The tea planations are responsible for the whole villiage.
Darjeeling tea is typically not taken with milk, it is so light.
We tasted several teas: A 2005 First Flush (which most agreed was a bit flat); a 2006 First Flush which had a little more floral note. To me it tasted "fuller" and a little "silky." First Flush is the first plucking in spring, and produces a small leaf, greener in the cup and lighter to the taste. Then, the plants are left to rest--more rain, more sun--and the leaves are bigger on Second Flush. More body, more amber. From July through mid-September the monsoons come and the tea is not very good. From mid-September through November is the Autumnal Flush producing a more toasty flavor. Second flush and Autumnal Flush are popular in the United States.
Barbara recommends drinking First Flush in the same year it was plucked.
We tasted a couple of other First Flush teas, which the Republic of Tea labels as "Darjeeling Nouveau." According to Barbara, global warming has affected the Darjeeling crop, producing smaller leaves, but she says "they are hardy little souls!"