Shopping for Darjeeling teas can feel like choosing a bottle of wine. This is on purpose. Darjeeling tea producers have gone to great pains to emphasize harvest time and estate. Differences between flushes can be fairly easily recognized. Color, intensity of aroma, and texture vary noticeably.
What remains is a question of distinctiveness among estates. Does Margaret’s Hope really differ from Okayti?
Here are things to consider when comparing darjeeling teas:
1. Location. There are approximately 86 different tea estates in the Darjeeling region. These are the gardens that can legally be called darjeeling teas according to the Darjeeling Planter’s Association. Approximately 47,000 acres of gardens annually produce about 22 million lbs of tea.
These gardens grow on slopes and hillsides; therefore they vary in terms of elevation. Some are close to 1,000 feet above sea level, but can be as much as 7,500. Most grow above 3,300 feet.
2. Types of tea bushes. The real key to distinctiveness among estates is the mix of plants they are growing. They can grow China bush clones. They can grow Assams, or China-Assam hybrids. These hybrids get designations like: AV2, B157, P312, T78, and TS378. Clones and hybrids carry their own strengths. Some are sweeter tasting. Some are hardier bushes. Some have longer or more productive lifespans. And any single estate can have a combination of hybrids growing on it. In effect, each estate can have its own recipe of leaves harvested from one or more clonal/hybrids. And this recipe can change over time. As some bushes approach the end of their lifespans they will be replaced by younger versions of themselves or a different hybrid. When you include the climatic variations that occur, you may be left wondering how different a darjeeling tea from the same estate may have tasted 50 years ago.
The true beauty of Darjeeling teas then, is both the static and the fluid. It is the combination that creates each distinct story. That makes it difficult to say which is better. But with a little digging and investigation, you can find which estates have greater populations of sweeter China bush or other characteristics you may seek.
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