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Monday, March 14, 2011


Darjeeling tea, from the Darjeeling region in West Bengal, India, has traditionally been prized above all other black teas, especially in the United Kingdom and the countries comprising the former British Empire. When properly brewed, it yields a thin-bodied, light-colored liquor with a floral aroma. The flavor also displays a tinge of astringent tannic characteristics, and a musky spiciness often referred to by tea connoisseurs as "muscatel." Although Darjeeling black teas are marketed commercially as "black tea", almost all of them have incomplete oxidation (<90%), so they are technically more Oolong than black.
Unlike most Indian tea, Darjeeling is normally made from the small-leaved Chinese variety of Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, rather than the large-leaved Assam plant (C. sinensis var. assamica). Traditionally, Darjeeling tea is made as black tea; however, Darjeeling oolong and green teas are becoming more commonly produced and easier to find, and a growing number of estates are also producing white teas. After the enactment of Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 in 2003, Darjeeling tea became the first Indian product to receive a GI tag, in 2004-05 through the Indian Patent Office.[1]



[edit] History

Tea planting in the Indian district of Darjeeling was begun during 1841 by Dr. Campbell, a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service. Campbell was transferred to Darjeeling in 1839 and used seeds from China to begin experimental tea planting, a practice that he and others continued during the 1840s. The government also established tea nurseries during that period. Commercial development began during the 1850s.

[edit] Designation

Logo of the Darjeeling Tea Association. The central portion is the actual certification mark.
According to the Tea Board of India - "Darjeeling Tea" means: tea which has been cultivated, grown, produced, manufactured and processed in tea gardens (see 'Estates' section below) in the hilly areas of Sadar Sub-Division, only hilly areas of Kalimpong Sub-Division consisting of Samabeong Tea Estate, Ambiok Tea Estate, Mission Hill Tea Estate and Kumai Tea Estate and Kurseong Sub-Division excluding the areas in jurisdiction list 20,21,23,24,29,31 and 33 comprising Siliguri subdivision of New Chumta Tea Estate, Simulbari and Marionbari Tea Estate of Kurseong Police Station in Kurseong Sub-Division of the District of Darjeeling in the State of West Bengal, India grown on picturesque steep slopes up to 4000 ft.[2] Tea which has been processed and manufactured in a factory located in the aforesaid area, which, when brewed, has a distinctive, naturally occurring aroma and taste with light tea liquor and the infused leaf of which has a distinctive fragrance.
Adulteration and falsification are serious problems in the global tea trade; the amount of tea sold as Darjeeling worldwide every year exceeds 40,000 tonnes, while the annual tea production of Darjeeling itself is estimated at only 10,000 tonnes, including local consumption. To combat this situation, the Tea Board of India administers the Darjeeling certification mark and logo (see right).[3] Protection of this tea designation is similar in scope to the protected designation of origin used by the EU for many European cheeses.
Darjeeling tea cannot be grown or manufactured anywhere else in the world, similar to Champagne in that region of France.

[edit] Varieties

First flush Darjeeling tea
After steeping
Traditionally, Darjeeling teas are classified as a type of black tea. However, the modern Darjeeling style employs a hard wither (35-40% remaining leaf weight after withering), which in turn causes an incomplete oxidation for many of the best teas of this designation, which technically makes them a form of oolong. Many Darjeeling teas also appear to be a blend of teas oxidized to levels of green, oolong, and black.
  • 1st Flush is harvested in mid-March following spring rains, and has a gentle, very light color, aroma, and mild astringency.
  • In Between is harvested between the two "flush" periods.
  • 2nd Flush is harvested in June and produces an amber, full bodied, muscatel-flavored cup.
  • Monsoon or Rains tea is harvested in the monsoon (or rainy season) between 2nd Flush and Autumnal, is less withered, consequently more oxidized, and usually sold at lower prices. It is rarely exported, and often used in Masala chai.
  • Autumnal Flush is harvested in the autumn after the rainy season, and has somewhat less delicate flavour and less spicy tones, but fuller body and darker colour.

[edit] Grades

When Darjeeling teas are sold, they are graded by size and quality. The grades fall into four basic groups: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings, and dust.
Whole Leaf
  • SFTGFOP: Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe indicates that it contains many tips and are long and wiry in appearance. The liquors are lighter in color.
  • FTGFOP: Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe.
  • TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
Broken Leaf consists of small tea leaves or pieces of large leaves.
  • FTGBOP: Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe.
  • TGBOP: Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe.
  • FBOP: Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe.
  • BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe.
Fannings consists of even smaller leaf size than the brokens.
  • GFOF: Golden Flowery Orange Fannings.
  • GOF: Golden Orange Fannings.
Dust represents the lowest grade in classification, consists of small pieces of tea leaves and tea dust.
  • D: Dust

[edit] Estates

Mount Kanchenjunga,3° eight-thousander in height and Darjeeling city seen from Tiger Hill
Darjeeling tea plantation
Tea Garden on the way to Rock Garden, Darjeeling
Fresh bud in a tea plant
There are many tea estates (also called "tea gardens") in Darjeeling, each producing teas with different character in taste and aroma. Some of the popular estates include Arya, Chamong, Glenburn, Lingia, Castleton, Jungpana, Makaibari, Margaret's Hope, and Risheehat. Below is a non-exhaustive list:
  • Ambootia
  • Arya
  • Avongrove
  • Badamtam
  • Balasun
  • Bannockburn
  • Barnesbeg
  • Castleton
  • Chamong
  • Chongtong
  • D'alrus
  • Gielle
  • Giddapahar
  • Ging
  • Glenburn
  • Goomtee
  • Gopaldhara
  • Happy Valley
  • Hilton
  • Jogmaya
  • Jungpana
  • Kaley Valley
  • Kanchan View
  • Lingia
  • Longview
  • Makaibari
  • Margaret's Hope
  • Mim
  • Moondakotee
  • Mission Hill
  • Nagri
  • Namring
  • Orange Valley
  • Puttabong
  • Peshoke
  • Phoobsering
  • Phuguri
  • Poobong
  • Potong
  • Princeton
  • Pussimbing
  • Ringtong
  • Risheehat
  • Rohini
  • Runglee Rungliot
  • Samabeong
  • Seeyok
  • Selimbong
  • Singbulli
  • Singell
  • Singla
  • Soom
  • Soureni
  • Snowview
  • Steinthal
  • Sungma
  • Takdah
  • Teesta Valley
  • Thurbo
  • Tindharia
  • Tongsong Dtriah
  • Tumsong
  • Upper Fagu
  • Vah Tukvar
Assam (Assamese: অসম, Hindi: आसाम, and also Hindi: असम) is a black tea named after the region of its production, Assam, in India. Assam tea (Assamese: অসমীয়া চাহ, Hindi: असमिया चाय or Hindi: आसामी चाय or Hindi: असमी चाय) is manufactured specifically from the plant Camellia sinensis var. assamica (Masters).[1][2] This tea, most of which is grown at or near sea level, is known for its body, briskness, malty flavor, and strong, bright color. Assam teas, or blends containing Assam, are often sold as "breakfast" teas. English Breakfast tea, Irish Breakfast tea, and Scottish Breakfast Tea are common generic names.
The state of Assam is the world's largest tea-growing region, lying on either side of the Brahmaputra River, and bordering Bangladesh and Burma (Myanmar). This part of India experiences high precipitation; during the monsoon period, as much as 10 to 12 inches (250-300 mm) of rain per day. The daytime temperature rises to about 103F (40 °C), creating greenhouse-like conditions of extreme humidity and heat. This tropical climate contributes to Assam's unique malty taste, a feature for which this tea is well known.
Though "Assam" generally denotes the distinctive black teas from Assam, the region produces smaller quantities of green and white teas as well with their own distinctive characteristics.
Historically, Assam has been the second commercial tea production region after southern China. Southern China and Assam are the only two regions in the world with native tea plants. Assam tea revolutionized tea drinking habits in the 19th century since the tea, produced from a different variety of the tea plant, yielded a different kind of tea.



[edit] The Myth of Discovery

This 1850 engraving shows the different stages in the process of making tea in Assam.
The recurring colonial myth of "discovery" informs the history of the Assam tea bush and is attributed to one Robert Bruce, a Scottish adventurer, who apparently encountered it in the year 1823. Bruce reportedly found the plant growing "wild" in Assam while trading in the region. He noticed local tribesmen (the Singhpos) brewing tea from the leaves of the bush and arranged with the tribal chiefs to provide him with samples of the leaves and seeds, which he planned to have scientifically examined. Robert Bruce died shortly thereafter, without having seen the plant properly classified. It was not until the early 1830s that Robert’s brother, Charles, arranged for a few leaves from the Assam tea bush to be sent to the botanical gardens in Calcutta for proper examination. There, the plant was finally identified as a variety of tea, or Camellia sinensis, but different from the Chinese version (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis).

[edit] Sales in the United Kingdom

The intervention of the colonising English East India Committee was realised through a body of 'experts' constituting the Tea Committee (1834) to assess the scientific nature and commercial potential of Assam tea. The adherence of the members of the committee to the Chinese ideal (in terms of the plant and the method of manufacture) led to the importation of Chinese tea makers and Chinese tea seeds to displace the "wild" plant and methods obtained in Assam. After a period, however, a hybridized version of the Chinese and Assam tea plants proved to be more successful in the Assam climate and terrain.
By the late 1830s, a market for Assam tea was being assessed in London; and the positive feedback led the East India Company to inaugurate a long drawn process of dispossession of agricultural land and forest commons through the infamous 'Wasteland Acts' allowing significant portions of the province by private capital to be transformed into tea plantations. The close symbiotic relationship of the colonial state and plantation capitalism through the colonial period is most succinctly captured in the term Planter-Raj.

[edit] Production

Teaworker plucking tea leaves in a tea garden of Assam
The cultivation and production of Assam tea in the first two decades (1840-1860) was monopolised by the Assam Company, which operated in districts of Upper Assam and through the labour of the local Kachari labour. The success of the company and the changes in colonial policy of offering land to the tea planters (Fee simple rules) led to period of boom and expansion in the Assam tea industry in the early 1860s, but it could not necessarily be translated into a dramatic shift in production (from China to Assam) due to the "makeshift" nature of plantations, poor conditions of life on plantation (huge rates of mortality and desertion) and also at times the presence of pure speculative capital with no interest in tea production.

[edit] Geography

The tea plant (Camellia sinensis var. assamica) is grown in the lowlands of Assam, unlike Darjeelings and Nilgiris which are grown in the highlands. The Assam tea bush grows in a lowland region, in the valley of the Brahmaputra River, an area of clay soil rich with the nutrients of the floodplain. The climate varies between a cool, arid winter and a hot, humid rainy season—conditions ideal for it. Because of its lengthy growing season and generous rainfall, Assam is one of the most prolific tea-producing regions in the world. Each year, the tea estates of Assam collectively yield approximately 1.5 million pounds (680,400 kg) of tea.
Assam tea is generally harvested twice, in a “first flush” and a “second flush.” The first flush is picked during late March. The second flush, harvested later, is the more prized “tippy tea,” named thus for the gold tips that appear on the leaves. This second flush, tippy tea, is sweeter and more full-bodied and is generally considered superior to the first flush tea. The leaves of the Assam tea bush are dark green and glossy and fairly wide compared to those of the Chinese tea plant. The bush produces delicate white blossoms.

[edit] See also

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