In continuing with a Darjeeling tea theme of blog postings, we were fortunate enough to receive four samples of First Flush tea from Darjeeling from Lochan Tea Limited. We are extremely thankful for these samples. We were very curious what 2018 and the First Flush would bring given the labor strike and unrest of 2017 throughout the Dooars Region of India. After we wrote a blog post about the troubling situation, cooler heads and more ideal leadership came forward to end the strike, as it began to take a toll on the industry, the people, and most importantly the plants. Still this posting is not about rehashing 2017 or looking to open out wounds, it is quite the opposite. This post is about the celebration of all the people involved, who bring such high quality tea to the world, thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you.
Before I get into the tasting samplings notes, I want to give you some information about how I conducted my tastings and a few other notes.
The first note is while we (tea producers, brokers, and other people who make up the industry globally) try to follow some guidelines as far as tasting and judging quality of tea which have been developed over a very long time and taught in many forms, this is done so to create a universal understanding. Now as it regards to the individual tea consumer sensory experience, every one has different taste buds hence everyone has different taste in tea. This would be no different than say different taste of beer, wine, liquor (spirits), or even cheese. Whatever tea that you like, is the tea that you like, don’t fall into the “peer pressure trap,” that person so and so said this is the best tasting tea in the world. Sure, part of the sensory experience within the industry establishes some standards which in turn establishes a floor price range for the tea at auction or potentially in an open market, but you must remember tea industry people are also looking at perfection of the art and science of tea production within the cup as well. Is the tea over withered, does it taste burnt, was it dried too long, how come the leaf didn’t oxidize fully, is this really a orange flowery pekoe pluck versus a just a pekoe pluck, these are examples of what industry people look for that the average consumer may never know. It is important for individuals who drink tea to learn about different teas and come to the first conclusion, what is their cup of tea, pun completely intended.
My second note of importance is there are two reasons for Darjeeling being one of the prominent teas sold in the world, the Darjeeling Fame, the brand, “The Champagne of Tea.” In a nut shell, The first reason is the climate and growing of Camellia sinensis var sinensis “China Type” at high elevations. I touched on in my last blog what makes high elevation teas unique in the fact they have received higher levels of Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. While there is not a lot of research period on understanding plants defensive mechanisms to UV or what potential receptors they may have, we do know that elevated UV exposure does create more free radicals and the plants in turn creates higher defensive compounds particularly antioxidants.
Now, I cannot discount the weather is also extremely favorable for cultivating and processing tea as well. Sure in the United States we can argue over which state has the best apples, be it Washington State, North Carolina, or New York, yet each state’s apples have something very specific to them, Washington state having very large apples, North Carolina have very sweet apples, and New York having a super crispy apple. Darjeeling being no different, with the traditional cup of Darjeeling being light and pleasant with a floral aroma and sweet taste with a lasting aftertaste.
The other reason Darjeeling tea is a juggernaut on the global markets, demand, yes simple old fashion demand by consumers for that product. Yes, the UK is done a fabulous job for years marketing the Darjeeling brand, every tea house of long standing in London, has had a role and creating the large demand for this tea, well outside that is have excellent flavor that westerns love. All in all, the climate creates a unique flavor and that flavor has been promoted and sought after for several generations and this is why Darjeeling tea is like the Ferrari of the India tea, yet in comparison, Assam tea is the Porsche.
My third note is more of something for my American friends, particularly friends in the South, Land of Iced Tea. If you are having friends over for dinner and want to be “fancy” or show your guest that they are esteemed and you will go to no ends to properly entertain them, make a gallon of iced tea with Darjeeling tea. Just don’t boil the water, if you do let it sit for 5 to 6 minutes to cool, then brew your tea. The easy way to ruin Darjeeling tea, is to use too hot of water, 195F is ideal. Use about 8 to 9 heavy teaspoons (24-28g) of tea to steep, and steep for only five minutes in a quart of water, then add sugar while the water is hot (if you want to sweeten to your liking), stir, then add the other 3 quarts of water. Darjeeling iced tea is like drinking a 5th generation small batch bourbon or brandy, something you should do a few times in your life and realize every penny spent was well worth it.
(You have to remember iced tea did not exist in the world until the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, which is considered marginally in the South, but according to local researchers, Summerville, South Carolina, former home of Dr Shepard’s Pinehurst Tea Gardens is also home to “Sweet Tea.” I always wondered if they figured that out after putting one lumps or two in their hot tea.)
The last note I will cover before I get to my tasting notes, is my background and the methodology for conducting my tasting. Let me first say, as someone who has drank tea for the majority of my life and does not drink coffee, it is always a treat to try new teas. Even when I make batches of Green or White Camellia tea or Cassina Tea from Yaupon Holly. There is always some excitement and anticipation of brewing the first cup and to find out what is in it.
In addition, to being a life long tea drinker, I have in the past received some training in tasting of tea from an English trained tea taster, Bill Hall, my former manager and co-owner of the Charleston Tea Plantation. I am thankful for what he did teach me and giving me the opportunity not only to taste tea from around the world on a daily basis, but also in detail, challenge me to learn the “notes.” I am further grateful for not only this time with him, but also the time, which was very limited, to learn and exhibit my new knowledge with his dad, an extraordinary man, and the real head master of tea in the United States. Once a week, they would brew the tea and we would only get the liquor to examine, me and my fellow employee, had to take turns figuring out which was the finish from the seconds and in some instances the gold from the crap with notes about what made it gold or what made it crap.
Like any brewing of Camellia tea, I always follow the 2.2 grams per 6floz (180 mL) rule. I do heat my freshly drawn water to an appropriate temperature based on what type of Camellia tea it is. For Darjeeling tea, the water temperature is 195 F (90.5 C) which I measure with an infrared laser temperature meter, shooting several points in the kettle to make sure the temperature is right. I also steep my black teas for a full 5 minutes, before pouring. Ironically, I like to use a French coffee press to brew tea with, I like the filtering and to be able to see the color of the liquor change during the steeping process.
Unlike traditional industry tasting practices of tasting multiple teas in one sitting, I do not do that. I tasted only one tea a day. I do this, to respect the tea and to have a unbiased palate. I want to be able to enjoy the sensory experience fully. I also do it, so that when people who ask me (who are not tea industry, just drinkers) about certain teas, that my tasting notes are done so in a manner that they are a accustom to, essentially in a manner of the end consumer.
With all that being said, we can finally move onto the tasting notes. I am going to start with the lowest quality and move up to the highest quality of the four samples I received with some background information on each one as well.
SELIM HILL CLONAL DELIGHT (organic):
Of the four samples I received, I was very disappointed in this sample. When I looked at the market price per kilogram, I was even more puzzled to why, then I thought about it, with it being an organic grown tea, there is some stability in overall price, still to me, this is a perfect example of one of the biggest risks and failures that anyone who is in the tea business producing or just producing leaf can experience. The field work can be perfect, yet all the value and gains can be lost in the processing part. This tea is a great example. As far as the tasting notes, very astringent almost to point of undrinkable, low floral odor, the leaf smelled fresh but again very low odor. It is my understanding that the tea was dried way too long. In my opinion, this tea is over valued at it’s current price, yet I do believe that this would make an excellent tea to blend with ethnobotanicals, in a proportion to overcome the very strong astringent taste. I think it would be nice with some citrus, hibiscus, and hint of mint. So yes, to gain back some value and potential to sale, whom ever buys this should be looking at it as part of a blend.
When I brewed this sample, I made two cups worth in the french press. What I did not do, is stir the liquor after steeping, hence the two cups with different color liquor. While this sample was the second highest valued sample received (only a difference of $10 USD per kilogram from the third highest value sample), it was everything you would expect in a nice cup of Darjeeling First Flush. This AV2 clonal tea is hand plucked and machine rolled at an elevation of 3,500 to 4,000 feet above sea level. This tea has a nice balance that is not too strong, but it has a hint of peach and honey and a good floral aroma and taste. As far as the market price, it fits ideally for what is brought forward in the cup. Mrs. Hortfire had the lighter color cup (I drank the darker colored cup and taste the lighter colored on), both of us noticed a mild lasting after taste with it. To her, it was really good, to me it was an excellent bench mark in what I expect from Darjeeling First Flush.
GIDDAPAHAR AV2 CLONAL:
This tea was remarkable in my opinion, especially for the market price. This was the third highest valued sample I received, yet it was undervalued in my opinion, not by a lot. The Giddapahar AV2 while similar in price to Glenburn Moonshine, there where some instance from tasting and production that stand out differently. Apparently the Giddapahar operation tends to take more care with their teas, which can be easily overlooked, from the handling in the field to production in the factory. This again is a hand plucked and machine rolled tea, but the rolling process is done on a smaller machine and in smaller batches with a lighter roll. The Giddapahar operation is also located between 5,500 to 6,000 feet above sea level, so again it has some extra “elevation advantages” over the Glenburn Moonshine. When it came to tasting, again I was very delighted with its’ nice aroma, very floral, mild to low astringent, with notes of honey and citrus. It also had a strong residual after taste flavor that periodically you would taste pleasantly well after the cup was finished.
I did take the opportunity, to blend the Giddapahar with Selim Hill at a 2 to 1 ratio and brew it. I did this because of what I felt was an under valued Giddapahar could potentially make up for the Selim Hill short falls. Some people may argue I just devalued the Giddapahar at the expense of the Selim Hill, which is true in one sense, yet I took a different point of view of making the best of what you have and taking a approach to maximize what is available.
Here is what it looks like, and from a tasting point of view, it is actually very palatable and if I was to guess, market value wise, it would be some where in between the current market evaluations of Giddapahar and Selim Hill First Flush. There are traces of all the good qualities of the Giddapahar and the Selim Hill strong astringent taste is toned down remarkably.
So the question remains, why would anyone do this and how would doing this be remotely profitable. Well, there are two ways in my opinion, first way, if the goal is to get it out to consumers as quickly as possible and recover cost and maybe a small profit margin. I would blend it with ethnobotanicals like citrus and hibiscus and sell in bulk. If I could store it and wait until all the First Flush is gone and maybe even the Second Flush, catch the market at a “dry period,” then you should be able to sell it a profitable price, not saying a big profit margin, but at some level to make it worth the trouble. What I would not do, is put the time, energy, and finances into going the value added through marketing and packaging approach, maybe in small loose tea packaging but nothing more. The blend makes a fairly good cup of tea, but you don’t want to sink any more money into it than you have too.
AVONGROVE IMPERIAL WHITE (organic):
Man, what can I say, other than Thank You Vivek Lochan for sharing this sample with me. If you are a tea drinker or want to give a great gift to a tea drinker, then this is one of those gifts that you give. This perfectly balanced tea has everything in light to subtle flavor and aroma. From the sweetness to floral, this tea truly grew close to the heavens and was treated with the highest respect in making it. It’s market evaluation is spot on, which it is not cheap and is a good benchmark for what elite Darjeeling First Flush is all about. What makes it super special to me is the lingering pecan taste, yes I said pecan. For some of you, the pecan is a nut tree domestic to North America and grows through out the Southeast. Pecan don’t taste like other nuts, they have their own flavor and are more closely related to Hickories. Still this tea is worth every penny spent on it.
Let’s not forget that none of these teas would exist or be on a market if it wasn’t for the people. The people who labor intensively in the field and factory, the managers, the brokers, the salespeople, the collective whole. While we live in a less than perfect world at times, there is no one person who isn’t codependent upon another, especially in the tea industry. So thank you, thank you for giving the world some of the highest quality teas that many people from many different backgrounds can enjoy and appreciate your craft. There will never be two Darjeelings on this planet, but there will always be one human race that lives together, loves together, and can always peacefully resolve disputes with one another, especially for those who make the most peaceful inducing product in the world, tea.
Until next time, give Lochan Tea Limited a shout if you are interest in procuring some of these teas. I hope that you have “Grown Forward,” with this blog. In the future if you want me to sample your products and write about them, just reach out to us and we would give you and the rest of the world a very honest and reliable review.
Thank you for reading and your support, take care!