Written by Eric Rasmussen on July 12, 2013.

Darjeeling tea is often labeled as a black tea or an afternoon tea, but it turns out neither is accurate, because:

  1. Darjeeling teas often aren’t fully oxidized like typical black teas, and
  2. they’re delicious all day long

I was first drawn to Darjeeling for the flavor: the light, golden brew of a new first flush, or the darker, chocolate intensity of a balanced second flush. But I stayed for the culture: Darjeeling teas are interesting.

They come from the Darjeeling district in India, and the quality of the tea is highly dependent on the particular estate producing it, how well the crops performed in a given year, and when the leaves were harvested. First and second flush* harvests are the most common labels you’ll see for higher quality Darjeelings.

The complexity of the tea and its production has invited comparisons to wine (more specifically Champagne, because of the regional nature of both), and it’s fun to geek out on what people are saying about the newest crops each year.

Harney & Sons is a great a starting point for learning more. They generally provide detailed information about where the teas come from, how the crops compare to previous years, and what you can expect in terms of body and flavor. They also offer loose leaf samples in addition to larger loose leaf tins. If you aren’t feeling too adventurous, you can always start with their Darjeeling sachets (a nice blend of first flush and autumnal).

I’m currently enjoying a second flush organic Darjeeling from The Tea List in Davis, CA. They don’t offer online ordering, but if you live within driving distance it’s worth the trip.

*First flush is the spring harvest, and second flush the summer harvest. Each has distinct characteristics, and both tend to be sold as high quality loose leaf tea. There are other harvests (or flushes) as well, but the tea they produce is typically used in blends.

Tagged: tea, black-tea, oolong