Like slooooooowly eating a purple grape.
Black tea » Indian » Darjeeling, ★★★★
Look at my Tea Taxonomy diagram and you’ll see that Darjeeling tea is a special colour. I’ve coloured it cyan (representing Oolong tea) despite placing it in the red (Indian Black tea) subcategory. Why did I do that?
Darjeeling is no ordinary black tea. First, unlike most black teas, it’s only partially oxidised, making it technically an oolong tea and not a black tea at all. Second, unlike most other black teas, Darjeeling tea estates cultivate the small-leaved Chinese tea bush (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis or 茶树), rather than the large-leaved Assam tea tree (Carmellia sinensis var. assamica or 古茶树). The result is a unique “muscatel” flavour and an intriguing wet-leaf aroma that earns Darjeeling the title of “the Champagne of all teas”.
What is “muscatel”? If you don’t wash the leaves (as I didn’t), the first brew will taste slightly of grape skin (that’s “muscatel”). This slightly astringent flavour (which I don’t particularly like) is replaced by a grapey sweetness in subsequent brews (which I do like). The second brew is the best (that’s the first brew if you wash the leaf), where notes of grape, rose and peach come out to play.
Second pluck Darjeeling is quite tannin-rich, but tannic muscatel yields to a sweet, lingering grapiness after you’ve finished drinking. Drinking this tea is like slooooooowly eating a purple, seeded grape, where the astringency of the skin disappears but the sweetness inside lingers on the tongue. Wet Darjeeling leaves release an overwhelming aroma of crushed grapes.
This special tea deserves special treatment. My tips for brewing Second Flush Darjeeling: (1) wash the leaves (i.e. discard the first brew); (2) don’t brew it too hot (remember it’s an Oolong tea!) and (3) take breaks between brews to allow the sweet grape flavour to emerge. ★★★★
Learn more about Darjeeling teas from this video:
- Why You Should Drink More Darjeeling (drinks.seriouseats.com)
- The Good and Bad of Steamed Darjeeling Green Tea (englishtea.us)
- Black tea: Nonaipara Estate Assam (jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com)
- Black tea: Dejoo Estate Assam (jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com)