A fine Darjeeling begins its journey at the gardens where it is picked. The soil, elevation, rain, drainage, and overall weather affect the growth and quality of the tea. The expert pickers begin work at 7 a.m. when the leaves are still covered in dew and the pick until 4 p.m. The pickers carefully choose only the fine top “two leaves and a bud.” They bring their bounty to the factory to be weighed two or three times a day because the leaf has to start the processing close to when it is picked, as it will otherwise begin changing chemically in the basket.
The Orthodox style of manufacture used in Darjeeling requires much time and care. After weighing, the leaves are spread out on troughs with the utmost of care, because if the leaves break, quality automatically begins to degrade, and this may damage the tea so much that it cannot be rolled. It is on these troughs that the process of withering, or removal of moisture, is carried out. Many say that the quality of a Darjeeling’s taste is "in the wither" and the tea garden managers pay particular attention to this stage of manufacture.
The tea is then rolled on a rolling machine which twists the leaf. The main purpose of this step is to prepare the leaf for fermenting by rupturing the cell membranes so that oxygen begins to act with its polyphenols, a main element of tea, also called catechins. Some very delicate teas are rolled by hand. Tea is then brought to the “fermentation room,” where the tea is oxidized over a period of two to four hours. The leaf is then taken for “firing,” or, drying, to stop further fermentation by deactivating the enzymes, and to remove almost all of the remaining moisture in the leaf, hopefully down to about 2% moisture content. Tea is then graded by size through vibrating wire mesh sifters. The broken tea leaves and tea dust are of poor quality and are used mainly in tea bags, while the whole leaves are of the highest quality.
When drinking a cup of Darjeeling tea, one wants it to be perfect! One of the best teas produced world-wide, to ruin a tea like this would even be considered a crime by some! All palettes prefer different tastes and it is important to find one that suits you.
Darjeeling Tea comes in four main varieties
Darjeeling Black Tea: This is the most common and traditional form of Darjeeling tea that has been known for years and produced almost by all the gardens in Darjeeling. As the name suggests, the tea liquor is dark in colour and can have a range of flavours including fruity, nutty, flowery and spicy, depending on the flush.
Darjeeling Oolong Tea: This tea is halfway between black and green teas in terms of flavour and oxidation. The first flush (spring) liquor is light orange in colour and not popular. The liquor of second flush (summer flush) is darker orange with green infusion and muscatel flavour & fruity aroma, and is in high demand worldwide.
Darjeeling Green Tea: Darjeeling green tea is dried and steamed but not fermented, and as a result many of the natural beneficial chemicals are retained. The liquor is usually light green in colour.
Darjeeling White Tea: This is the most delicate type of Darjeeling tea and commands the highest price. The liquor is pale golden in colour and has a hint of natural sweetness.
After picking your tea, the next important step is to choose your steeping vessel. The best material for this job is obviously a ceramic teapot that retains the flavour of the tea. So if you are a one-tea person, this is the best option for you. If, however, you like to switch between teas, a glass teapot will do the job equally well.
To steep your tea, always read the steeping instructions carefully. A white tea does not use the same temperature and time to steep as compared to a black tea. However with Darjeeling teas, a black first flush is an extremely delicate tea and requires special steeping instructions.
After you have steeped your tea, you can either add sugar or honey to your cup. Lemon may be added to your tea, but milk or cream is a strict no for any Darjeeling tea. By following these instructions, you can make and enjoy a perfect cup of Darjeeling tea always!