Every year connoisseurs eagerly await Darjeeling Nouveau…. This is the springtime harvest of tea known as the first flush. The Darjeeling district is famous for producing teas with the most exquisite bouquets, they are the best and most delicate of the India teas. Some 87 tea gardens are set within the foothills of the magnificent Himalayas, producing some of the costliest prime black teas in the world. In the late 1800’s the Brittish transplanted the Chinary tea bushes of Camellia Sinesis where they thrived nestled within the foothills of the moist sloping Himalayan range. The first flush unique quality is coaxed out from its winter dormancy with almost thunderbolts of sunshine through the rarified air, melodious rain drops melting the nipping snow!
Darjeeling is located in northeastern India cradled within the majestic snow sprinkled Himalayas. Sharing its borders with Nepal and Sikkim perched some 4,000 to 7,000 feet high at the foot of the Himalayas. Moving up the range one is greeted by smiling tea gardens, over 4,000 flowers and fauna such as magnolias, orchids, firs and pine. Audubon surely christened it heaven with birds singing to the tea leaves such as the Himalayan Rubythroat, the blue throated barbette or the white crested thrush. The Chinese tea masters of 5,000 years knew how the tender tea shoots can absorb such a land quilted with lush fragrances, no doubt contributing to the flavor creating these tea jewels adorning this tea which is the Queen of Darjeeling!
In Tibetan, Darjeeling translates to “dodi-ling” “Land where Indras scepter rested” or “Land of lightening”. The Sanskrit meaning is “Shiva of invisible prowess who rules the Himalayas”. No wonder this tea is so spectacular! It is sold at Harrods of London, Paris, and all over the world where discerning teaists approach it as worth its weight in gold.
Mark Twain said of the Himalayas: “The one land that all men desire to see and having seen once by even a glimpse would not give that glimpse for the shows of the rest of the world combined”
Darjeeling tea lovers have been known to wax just as poetic about their beloved first flush harvested only from late february to mid April. After a cold and chilly winter spring brings the tender shoots of succulent nearly luminous jade green tea leaves, dappling in the sunlight… shimmering with sun spun crystal mists. These tea gems of the moist wet and cool fertile terrain give a matchless symphony of delicate flavors with a mild astringency. At once notes of translucent florals, with a creamy green whisper of spring almonds and hazelnuts whirled within a rare tea champagne. Darjeeling has always been touted as the champagne of teas. If the metaphor of the wine sommelier’s Beaujolais Noveau were used? The excitement accrued still does not match the rarity of flavors complex yet as effervescent in its silken musketel notes and delicate amber colored tea liquors. First flush Darjeelings bring spring tea lovers rushing out to the tea markets for the true first flush lover. An execptionally rare high elevation estate such as the Gopaldhara Estate can go for as much as $200.00 for a precious 120 grams. Lower elevation teas if the flavors are not as developed can still be a shimmering cup at a more affordable price of $300.00 per lb. This tea is still manufactured in the “orthodox method” hand picked and nurtured through its creation as opposed to the less costly process known as CTC meaning crush-tear-curl, a mechanical and less costly approach. Only 500 kilos per hectare is the yield in contrast to its native Assamese tea strain which can easily produce 3x as much. It is the elevated price of the first flush and second flush which support the industry all year. The second flush is harvested during the months of May to June.
With all of Darjeelings luxurious legacy? A bit of pomp and ceremony in coaxing out its bewitching elixir wouldn’t hurt at all! As champagne loves delicate crystal flutes, a great darjeeling loves a fine porcelain tea cup. Its delicate leaves are easily over infused. First cold spring water brought to a fresh boil, certainly not over boiled thus robbing it of its oxygen. A fine quality tea pot which will not steal the flavor with its own seasoning due to brewing too many conflicting flavors. I recommend porcelain or silver if you like. One medium teaspoon of tea for each 7oz cup into the pot. The steeping time should be no more than 3 minutes so as not to over steep the gentle leaves. You are on your way to discovering a wondrous land within your teacup.