Darjeeling Tea: Your Guide to the Exquisite Black Tea

Erika Marty

If you’ve read a little about black tea, you’ve probably heard about Darjeeling tea. Like Assam tea, it’s one of the most popular black teas from India. What sets this black tea apart from the crowd is its unique muscatel flavor. Find out more about Darjeeling tea including the different types, history of cultivation, and its unique flavor profile right here.

What Is Darjeeling Tea?

Darjeeling tea is a black tea cultivated in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, India. The tea is distinct from other Indian black teas such as Assam, as it is made using a  different tea plant variety. While most Indian teas are made using the tea plant known as Camellia sinensis var. assamica, this black tea is made using the Chinese cultivar known as Camellia sinensis var, sinensis. This type of tea bush features smaller leaves and a more potent aroma. The tea cultivar is also used to produce green tea, white tea, and oolong tea.

Flavor Profile of Darjeeling Tea

Since Darjeeling tea is a black tea, it is often used as the base of masala chai and other flavored teas such as Earl Grey. This Indian black tea offers bold astringency thanks to the presence of tannins and a muscatel flavor, which is distinctly sweet and features a spiced undertone that is musky. The flavor profile changes when it comes to first flush teas and second flush teas. Early teas tend to be milder while later harvest teas have a higher astringent characteristic.

The unique flavor of Darjeeling tea is created through a fascinating process that occurs during cultivation. Insects such as leafhoppers and thrips suck on the sap in the tea leaves, causing mild damage. The plant responds by producing terpenes, which works to repel these insects. The higher terpenes content is responsible for the muscatel flavors of this Indian tea.

Darjeeling tea: tea cultivation

History of Darjeeling Tea

Like many other Indian black teas, the cultivation of this tea can be traced back to the 1800s. In 1841, a man named Archibald Campbell brought seeds from the Chinese tea plant to the Darjeeling district where he served as superintendent. He sourced the seeds from tea bushes in Kathmandu, Nepal and began to experiment with growing the tea plants in Darjeeling. Within a few years, the British colonists began selling the tea on a larger scale. By 1856, the first tea garden known as Alubari was established. 

Today, this tea is among the most popular black teas thanks to its unique flavor characteristics. The tea is also protected by legal designations and certifications in India. Teas can only be sold as Darjeeling tea if it is produced in certain tea estates in areas like the Sadar Subdivision, Kurseong Subdivision, and Siliguri Subdivision. The certification process is overseen by the Tea Board of India and is similar to the certification of cheese, wine, and champagne in Europe.

Darjeeling tea: assorted tea cups

Types of Darjeeling Tea

As mentioned, Darjeeling tea is mainly brewed as a black tea. Darjeeling black tea is typically harvested between spring and fall. The first flush occurs in mid-March once the spring rains have tapered off. First flush Darjeeling tea offers a mild body and lightly fruity flavor and floral aroma. The second flush or second harvest occurs in June. Second flush Darjeeling tea offers an amber-colored liquid with stronger muscatel flavors. The final flush, also known as the autumn flush, occurs in late fall. Autumnal flush teas boast a creamier body, darker hue, and bolder tasting notes. 

However, Darjeeling tea can also refer to a variety of green teas, white teas, and oolong teas. Here's a brief breakdown of the characteristics of Darjeeling white, oolong, and green teas.

Darjeeling White Tea

Darjeeling white teas are cultivated at high altitudes near the Himalayan Mountains, typically up to 6,000 feet above sea level. The rainy, cold climate produces a white tea that is mellow and delicate with hints of soft floral aromas and a mild sweetness. After plucking, the tea leaves undergo a mild withering process before they are dried in direct sunlight.

Darjeeling Green Tea

Darjeeling green tea boasts extensive health potential thanks to a high concentration of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants including polyphenols. The tea is grown in the Darjeeling region and then plucked by hand. The leaves are withered and then dried through steaming or pan-roasting to prevent oxidation. Like other green teas, it offers notes of grass, vegetal, and herbaceous flavors.

Darjeeling Oolong Tea

Darjeeling oolongs are a special type of tea that is lighter and airier than most oolongs. The tea brews into an orange hue and offers distinct muscatel flavors similar to Darjeeling black tea. These teas are always grown higher than 3,000 feet above sea level and are cultivated using special Chinese tea bushes. The tea is made using a few tea leaves and a tippy, or bud, that features delicate silver hairs. The tea leaves offer a mildly astringent flavor and are pan-fired to end the oxidation process. 

Drink the Best Darjeeling Tea

Known as the champagne of teas, Darjeeling tea is a category of delightful Indian teas. From Darjeeling black tea to green tea and white tea from the Darjeeling region, there is a flavor option for everyone whether you're a connoisseur or just trying out tea for the first time. 

Add a scoop of Darjeeling tea leaves to your teapot and find out what the buzz is about when it comes to this Indian tea. Keep your steeping time between 1 and 3 minutes for the best flavor.

For the best results, stick with high-quality tea. Look for certifications from the Tea Board of India to ensure your Darjeeling tea is authentic and comes from accredited tea plantations. Always opt for loose leaf tea instead of tea bags. Tea bags are often filled with tea dust and other remnants of the tea production process, which results in poor flavor quality. Loose tea features the whole leaf of the tea plant, packing in the best flavor and health benefits. Discover the best teas in our tea shop and see why tea lovers consistently rave about Darjeeling tea.

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Erika Marty

As a digital nomad, I get to work from anywhere in the world and discover new teas every week. When I'm not working, you can find me mountain biking, hiking, and petting every stray dog I meet.

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