Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, other than water. Its history spans over 5,000 years and was popular even before the Egyptians built the great pyramids. Since ancient times, tea has been revered for its bountiful health benefits and therapeutic properties. The best loose-leaf teas are comparable to fine wine.
All tea comes from the same plant, called the Camellia Sinensis. Whether the tea becomes white, green, oolong or black, depends on how the leaves are processed and oxidised.
The more tea leaves are processed, the stronger the flavour. The level of oxidation /fermentation, or exposure to the elements, is what determines whether a tea is white, green, oolong or black.
Types of Tea
White Tea is the most delicate of all teas. They are appreciated for their subtlety, complexity, and natural sweetness. They are hand-processed using the youngest shoots of the tea plant, with no oxidation. When brewed correctly, with a very low temperature and a short steeping time, white teas can produce low amounts of caffeine. Of course, steeping with hotter temperature and longer time will extract more caffeine. This tea has the maximum number of anti-oxidants known to mankind, the Leafs are further dried by the steaming process.
These teas are made by the steaming process and are not fermented at all as a result of which this type of tea contains a lot of anti-oxidants which are good for health. Green teas tend to have less caffeine (10-30% of coffee). Greens also tend to produce more subtle flavours with many undertones and accents that connoisseurs treasure.
Oolong Tea is the oldest tea manufacturing process of the world, this particular type of teas stands between the Green and the Black tea process, meaning this tea is semi-fermented, in simple words this tea tastes similarly like black teas and has health benefits of green teas. The flavour of oolong teas is typically not as robust as blacks or as subtle as greens but has its own extremely fragrant and intriguing tones. Oolongs are often compared to the taste and aroma of fresh flowers or fresh fruit.
The teas which are fermented over 45-60 minutes after processing are known as Black Teas. These types of teas are more pronounced in taste due to the fermentation process, the processed Leafs are laid on fermentation beds which react with the air and oxidises naturally. The results are the characteristic dark brown and black leaf, the typically more robust and pronounced flavours of black teas, and when brewed appropriately, a higher caffeine content compared to other teas (50-65% of coffee, depending on the type and brewing technique).
History Of Darjeeling Tea
The story of Darjeeling Tea started around 1850 when a Dr Campbell, a civil surgeon, planted tea seeds in his garden at Beechwood, Darjeeling, 7000 ft above sea level as an experiment. He was reasonably successful in raising the plant because of the government, in 1847, elected to put out tea nurseries in this area.
According to records, the first commercial tea gardens planted out by the British tea interests were Tukvar, Steinthal and Aloobari tea estates. This was in 1852 and all these plantations used seeds that were raised in the government nurseries.
Darjeeling was then only a sparsely populated hamlet which was being used as a hill resort by the army and some affluent people. Tea, being a labour intensive enterprise, required sufficient numbers of workers to plant, tend, pluck and finally manufacture the produce. For this, employment was offered to people from across the border of Nepal.
Now slowly Darjeeling Tea industry is evolving. Now young clonal varieties or cultivars such as AV1, AV2, BB157 etc. are also being used to prepare new artisan teas.
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.
This is the first growth after dormancy. The plucking/harvesting time varies by location, some being between late February to mid-April, others not starting until early March and going through mid-April. Some call this the “Spring flush” or “Easter flush.” The first flush commands high prices.
These tea leaves are picked from late May to June and produce an amazing, well rounded, mature and fruity flavour of tea that is said to be less astringent and even better than the first flush. The leaves steep up a liquid that is bright with a taste that is full, round, and has an excellent muscatel character.
As previously stated, the tea plant is one that needs a lot of moisture. It tends to thrive in areas subject to monsoonal weather patterns. In Darjeeling heavy rains fall from July until September. The Second flush is harvested before the rains start. After the rains withdraw, the tea plants start growing again. Usually, most gardens manufacture Green Tea during this time.
Finally, there is the Darjeeling Third flush, more commonly called “Autumn flush” known for their large leaves. They aren’t always available (weather conditions have to be just right). In mid-September, the monsoon season ends and the tea plants resume growth until October and November when they are harvested. The leaves produce a very dark leaf that steeps up a full-bodied and naturally fruity flavoured tea
Usually, from lower elevation gardens, the Winter flush is usually harvested between November and February and is in limited quantity when manufactured. Though the tea has flavour, it is not comparable to the other seasons.