Sixty-nine Shades of Darjeeling – Intro

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Our journalist Pip Ballantine has ventured out into the world of tea exploration, and has sent back this report as she tries to learn more about  wonderful darjeelings. These posts will be appear on Mondays, and we hope they inform and entertain…

Welcome! This all began when I decided to pick up the Teabox’s ‘All the Black Darjeelings’ sampler. Teabox is an online shop where you can buy samples, loose teas, and even subscribe to get a monthly delivery of teas.

I picked Darjeelings, because as much as I love assams and oolongs, the teas I have sampled at various teahouses have led me to prefer darjeelings. I was tempted to go for the Teabox Darjeeling Sampler which includes white and green teas, but 83 samples seemed even more daunting. Also, knowing my own tastes, I prefer black teas. Maybe if I make it through this journey I will pick another sampler—we’ll see how that goes.

My ultimate goal was to learn more about Darjeelings, and to find some favourite varieties to order more of. Hopefully I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew. So I’ll be taking notes and blogging, probably after I have done 3-5 samples.

I have to say the teas all arrived in great condition. They came in two large paper bags which were full of small, black sample bags, each with their own ziplock seal, just in case you don’t use up the tea all at once. Each little black bag contains 10 grams of tea, which is enough, I found for a large pot, or 2 teapots for one person. You can also steep the tealeaves again that day, but the best pour is always the first.

Each of the Teabox samples tells you the grade and the date it was picked—so right away I knew I was in for a trip comparable to a wine tour!

After the first pot I was reminded that quality tea is quite different from the usual Lipton people drink. For a start care is taken to not include the twigs and dust that brands less interested in quality will include. And you can immediately tell the difference. The bitterness that you find in cheaper teas is gone. I like my teas to have a tang, not leaving me with pursed lips but with a refreshing after taste.

So before we go further let’s have a bit of an overview of Darjeelings for those that are unfamiliar with them.

These teas come from west Begal, in India. Darjeeling, is just like champagne, it can only be truly called Darjeeling if it come from that certain area. It gets its name from the area it comes from, it can be found in black, green, white and oolong. (Though technically since Darjeelings aren’t completely oxidized, they are really oolong, but let’s not complicate things right off the bat)

2014-08-12 11.22.50Darjeelings are often called the wine of tea, and there is (as you and I will discover) as much to be learned about the different cups of tea as there are for cups of wine.

There are also different ‘flushes’ or seasons, when the leaves are picked. First flush is Spring, Second Summer, and Third Autumn. There are also In Between flush (between First and Second) and a Monsoon Flush (harvested during the rains, between Second and Third).

Phew…what a lot of information isn’t it?

Now in the interests of setting the scene, I will admit to loving the ceremony of tea. I have the sugar cubes, the sugar tongs, the strainer, the Blue Willow Pattern tea set, and even a little timer to make sure the tea is brewed to the appropriate time. Although I love adding milk and sugar to my tea (I know…the horror!) I will be first tasting the tea brewed straight, and then again with my heathen additions.

So here we are, ready to go…next Darjeeling post will be my first few samples, and what I thought. If you want to join me, feel free to buy the same sample box. I am sure we’ll be able to find some fantastic teas and hopefully pick out some favourites.

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