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Darjeeling was Always Different
July 9, 2012
With its mountains and cool winters, it could never compete with Assam as producer of low cost simple teas. It worked out that there was an established base of high quality “china” tea plants. So the teas were always more aromatic than those from Assam. However, the British consumers drank their Darjeeling with milk, so the teas were dark and thick. By the late 1960′s, the British influence was waning in those mountains. The new Indian garden owners were ready to rethink. At that time, a unique partnership happened between an Indian tea man: Ranabir Sen and German tea buyer: Bernd Wulf. Germany represented a new market for the Indians and one that was willing to pay more money for good tea. They felt that underneath all the darkness in traditional Darjeelings, was a great tea full of wonderful aromas. It just needed to be released. So the teas had to be lighten up. As mentioned, plucking standards were tightened up so just the two leaves and a bud were harvested. Withering time was lengthened so that aromas could develop during the chemical wither. Rolling was done easier (less pressure), with a special attention to avoiding heat buildup. Oxidation time was cut back.
The result is drastically different tea. It is more aromatic and lighter in body. Now one can taste the difference between different gardens. The aroma of Pussimbing Garden is very different from Puttabong Garden. Before this was not as noticeable. Also it was known that the teas produced during different times of the year, tasted differently. With the new production methods, the distinctions were more noticeable. So now, the same duo started to develop teas that would be sold as First Flush Darjeeling. In 1968, Bernd Wulf airfreighted the inaugural First Flush Darjeeling from Tumsong & Teesta Valley gardens into Germany. In the beginning, there was little demand for this new tea, but that has changed over the years. Many people prefer the First to the Second. Each year more tea is shipped by air. In fact, now this is done with early spring teas. This is a reprise of the Clipper Ship tea races of the 19th century.
Thanks Bernd (father of my friend Marcus Wulf) and Ranabir!
A good First Flush Darjeeling would Namring; brisk with lush tropical fruit flavors. For Second Flush, I would recommend Singell Muscatel, which is mellower with darker, Muscat grape flavors.