Darjeeling has often been called the “Valley of the Tea-Plants”. It is in this hill station that this particular tea found its perfect environment and developed into a quality product that mets international standards.
How Darjeeling Tea Originated?
It is said that the first tea bushes were introduced to this region by Captain Lloyd, the Deputy Commissioner of Darjeeling in 1841. He brought them from China as seeds and planted them on his garden at Sambhu Bazaar. This new vegetation was seen with pleasure by the Lepchas who roamed those hills such as monkeys (still present today), and they picked up some leaves to chew as a pastime. The astute planter noted their enjoyment and wanted to find out what sort of plant it was, so he kept back a few fruits for planting next year. It turned out that these seeds germinated well in Darjeeling soil! Soon after, the first tea factory was set up at Lebong by a British planter.
On the other hand, some sources say that these very same seeds were brought from China by Captain Charles White in 1841 and others claim that they were imported from Assam in 1853. However, these seeds did not germinate, and it was only in 1861 with the arrival of new seedlings from Assam that this industry truly began to open up. The Darjeeling Tea industry is therefore more than 150 years old and is counted among the most potent brands in the world market today.
During this time they also monopolized darjeeling’s tea production. This meant darjeeling became darjeeling’s main crop and darjeelings tea became darjeelings main export to the world
Climate for Darjeeling Tea
The climate is ideal for growing tea: an average temperature of 15°C during winter months (December-February) and 24°C during summer (March-May). Once the tea is harvested, it is processed at factories (mostly located in the town of Lebong) and then exported to many countries.
Tea estates produce more than 80% of the total output of Darjeeling Tea. The rest comes from small private garden owners who usually sell their own production for a better price. Most gardens are around 1 hectare (2.5 acres) in size and remain family owned since they were created by British planters during colonization.
Labour & Export
The gardens’ workers are mostly Gorkhas or Nepalese, with only a handful of non-native families involved in this activity; however there are some Lepchas but you will hardly find them now due to lack of interest. For these men, gardening is not just a job but a whole life style: they offer sacrifices and perform rituals to please the Earth so she will provide them with the best leaves.
Amongst other things, two goats are sacrificed each year before plucking begins!
Close to 90% of the total production is exported, particularly after 1949 when Nepal was declared independent from India and taxes were levied on goods sold across the border. The Darjeeling Tea industry then turned its attention mainly towards Europe and America where demand continues to grow. You may be surprised to know that this tea is often drunk as an ice-tea (yes you heard right!) and mixed with fruit juices. It contains between four and seven percent caffeine which feels like a strong coffee; it also contains antioxidants and is effective for weight loss and good for the cardiovascular system.
There are between 200 to 300 plantations in all: some large (Tukvar and Kumai) and others small (Lebong, Bababudang etc).
Over the years, science has helped make this industry more productive by introducing faster growing tea bushes and new hybrid varieties. It is now possible to produce a few kilos of tea per hour instead of only a few grams! This allows us to pluck leaves throughout the year, during any season according to demand. In addition , from 2010-11 various projects have been launched to improve both productivity and quality which should result in better prices for growers so they can continue their work without being unduly taxed by corrupt local bureaucrats.
During this same period, the consumption of green tea has also increased throughout the world for its anti-cancer benefits. Darjeeling Tea is viewed as China’s green tea equivalent for its powerful antioxidant properties and health benefits. It is known to keep you slim by stimulating your metabolism.
What is so Special about Darjeeling Tea?
The tea has a distinctive flavour and retains the fragrance of its terroir. And, it is prepared by brewing leaves in boiling water. A particular feature of the darjeeling tea produced here is that it consists of robusta seeds blended with an evergreen variety of small-leaved Chinese plant Camellia sinensis var. assamica known locally as “tangboh.”
The darjeeling tea plant also grows more slowly than other Indian varieties; this imparts a muscatel character to the darjeeling leaf that gives it a distinctive smoky flavor when brewed along with the amalgamation of robusta and tangboh seeds.
Darjeeling tea has been a certified geographical identifier for goods grown on certain estates in Darjeeling and Kalimpong since 2004. Although some estates have increased their product offerings to include leaves suited for brewing green, white, and oolong teas, the darjeeling leaf is processed as black tea.
FACT: Happy Valley tea Estate is One of the Largest tea gardens in Darjeeling.
Why is Darjeeling tea so expensive?
As you may know Darjeeling tea is one of the most expensive types of tea in the world. But why? This question has many answers.
The first reason is the weather. One of the main reasons why Darjeeling tea is so expensive is because of its weather. Its special weather conditions are perfect for tea gardens. These climates are the ones which allow the tea to have a unique taste and smell.
But why is its climate so special?
Well, darjeeling has two seasons: winter and summer. The winter season of darjeeling lasts from September to November, while the summer season starts in March and ends in May. Only during these months you can find darjeeling’s optimal temperature range which allows for darjeeling’s leaves to grow normally. This temperature range also favors darjeeling’s specific flora species that are used to produce darjeeling’s tea. The darjeeling tea flora species are dendrocalamus strictus, asteraceae and bambusa.
Another reason darjeeling tea is so expensive in darjeeling’s perfect combination of sunlight and rainfall that allows darjeeling to grow abundantly. Since darjeeling is located at a high altitude, darjeeling’s perfect sunlight and rainfall add unique flavors such as muscatel and fruity flavors to darjeelings tea. This makes darjeelings tea special, since it has more flavor than most other types of teas.
The first flush takes place during late March or early April when the new shoots come out of the ground. The fresh leaf has a slightly serrated edge which later becomes smooth during development. The second flush comes around mid-May and this time the full sized buds are used. The third and final flush is usually in October and uses whole new leaves, mainly some of the last new shoots.
During the darjeeling tea harvest, Darjeeling tea makers pick fresh tea leaf buds daily. Only 3 to 4 such leaf-picking sessions are possible each month because each picking depletes the plant’s resources. Also, darjeeling tea has a short shelf life, especially during periods where little darjeeling tea is available due to weather conditions. It should be noted that darjelling teas can also be plucked from first flush until mid-May and then later again from end may till first week of October (The second flush).
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What are the benefits of Darjeeling tea?
In order to explain this, I will compare it with two other teas.
First up is green tea leaves from China’s Fujian province, a Chinese oolong known as Da Hong Pao and black tea from Sri Lanka. For the purposes of a fair assessment, each sample was treated in an identical manner: placed in a glass beaker and allowed to steep for five minutes while being stirred every 20 seconds. This is because constant stirring prevents over-brewing.
The Fujian Province Green Tea had the most amount of antioxidants – 9 milligrams per 100 grams of dry mass versus 7mg/100g for Darjeeling Tea and 4mg/100g for the Sri Lankan Tea.
For antioxidants, black tea won, with a whopping 13mg/100g.
To those seeking to reduce the risk of cancer, darjeeling teas provide antioxidants that help protect cells from damage by harmful molecules known as free radicals. In addition, the results show that it also helps in prevention of cardiovascular diseases and lowers cholesterol too.
Bottom line: The benefits for drinking darjeelings are immense. They have been around for more than 200 years now so you have nothing to lose by giving them a try!
How much does Darjeeling tea cost?
The best quality tea from Darjeeling can cost you as much as 30 times than that of a usual box of black tea. Depending on the grade, the prices may vary.
In conclusion darjeeling’s perfect climate and soil give darjeeling a unique taste which makes darjeeling tea so special. It is therefore, one of a kind in the world of teas.
If you’re ever planning on a trip to Darjeeling, Here’s the list of Top 10 Places to Visit at the Queen of Hills.