Monday, December 13, 2010


By Jess Hodges

Darjeeling has long been regarded as the champagne of the tea world, the most highly regarded of all the black teas, although technically they should be classified as oolong due to their level of fermentation. Grown in India but from the traditionally Chinese variant of the tea plant, it's history begins in 1835 with a civil surgeon called Campbell. The experimental planting of Chinese seeds in Indian soil was to yield unique results. The project which began in Dr Campbell's garden was moved into government tea nurseries in 1847 and then into commercial tea gardens by 1852.

Darjeeling itself is located in the west Bengal region of India in the Himalayas. There was little to no tea growing expertise in the area so the production of darjeeling moved forwards by trial and error. Friendly rivalry between tea gardens separated by the peaks and valleys of the region helped to make standards as high as they are. There are 87 active tea gardens in darjeeling today producing the main income of the region.

Darjeeling is a light, delicate brew with a floral, slightly astringent flavour, it is said to be similar to that of muscatel wine. A variety of different teas with different qualities are produced throughout the year depending on the seasons. Spring, Summer, Monsoon and Autumn teas all have their own distinct characteristics.

Four times as much darjeeling tea is sold every year as is actually produced, indicating a pretty serious problem with counterfeit versions. To combat this it has now been given Geographical Indication meaning that the darjeeling brand is protected by international law in the same way as champagne. The tea board of India has bought in a certification mark and logo so if you want to ensure you're drinking genuine darjeeling you need to look for this mark.