Menu

Darjeeling: The Champagne of all teas

 

Darjeeling is the Chinese variations of the Camelia sinensis tea grown on Indian plantations in the province of Darjeeling and considered one of the most exquisite and expensive teas in the world. By the methods of cultivation and production, Darjeeling is closer to the Chinese teas rather than to the Indian teas. This is a small leaf tea, with slightly astringent taste and rich delicate floral aroma. Although Darjeeling is marketed commercially as "black tea", almost all of them have incomplete oxidation (<90%), so they are technically more Oolongs than black teas.
 
This tea has a delicate taste due to the unique natural conditions of the region where it grows: cold and humid climate, high altitude location of plantations and the characteristics of the soil. Depending on the location and time of collecting, the taste, aroma and characteristics of Darjeeling are highly different. The most significant impact on tea quality has seasonal factors. Not everyone will be able to distinguish the differences, for example, between Darjeeling Makaibari and Darjeeling Lingia. The difference between a drink obtained from the leaves collected in the spring, versus leaves from the same plantation, but harvested in early summer, will be obvious. The best varieties of Darjeeling is consider the "champagne of teas". The methods of processing tea leaves are very traditional, it includes withering, rolling, fermentation and drying, which is why this tea is so highly valued. 
 
First of all, today there are only 86 existing plantations of Darjeeling with a total area of about 19.000 hectare. Annual production on average is 11-12 thousand tons. This is about 1% of the total cultivated tea in India. It should be be noted that it would be impossible to obtain the taste qualities if Darjeeling if cultivated outside this region, therefore, making it an exclusive beverage. 
 
The labor on plantations is very tedious and demanding, the normal requires a production force of  about 52 thousand people that are constantly engaged. While in the tea harvesting season, which lasts from March to November, an additional 15 thousand workers are hired. More than 60% of workers in the tea gardens are women.
 
The collection of tea leaves takes place 4 times per year. The first harvest is the so-called Easter (March-May) begins immediately after the winter lull. Leaves collected at this time are light-green color. The characteristics of a good First Flush Darjeeling are a lively fresh, delightful flowery aroma and a honey color infusion. The connoisseurs of Darjeeling tea compare the first collection to tasteful green grapes "muscatel." Perhaps, that is why Darjeeling is called “champagne of teas”. Tea mixture of the first collection is very highly regarded by experts; it consists only of the upper leaves and buds that give this tea such exquisite taste. First Flush Darjeeling is sold at auctions, and prices are several times higher than the subsequent harvest from the same plantation.
 
The second collection takes place during the months of a May - June. Tea leaves collected during this period have a reddish color. Infusion is softer, intense, featuring a bright amber color. Because this tea is collected in the last month of spring and early summer, it has a light fruity aroma and a peculiar aftertaste. Darjeeling from the second collection, also called "In-Between", is considered a tea of high quality and is recommended as an afternoon tea. The leaves and the infusion are already turning darker and the diversity of the flavors varies from full-bodied to slightly aromatic. The "In-Between" is often used as a profitable blend, due to the high demand, the prices are not as cheap.
 
The summer collection takes place from June - July. During this period, the properties of the tea leaves are changing, along with the nature of the infusion. It becomes more robust, but it retains all the traditional characteristics of Darjeeling. The taste is a full-bodied, with a distinctive nutmeg note. The third collection is no less interesting and appreciated by connoisseurs, sometimes higher than the first crop.
 
The last collection, "Autumnal", is October - November. The infusion obtained from the leaves of the autumn collection, has a unique characteristic, the leaves are a light-copper color and has a somewhat milder taste. 
 
All this together ensures the highest quality of the famous Darjeeling. Because of its exclusivity and small production volumes, forgery of this tea was very popular. It is a big problem for world trade, the number of Darjeeling sold each year is more than 45 thousand tons, despite the fact that its official production is only about 11-12 thousand tons. The falsification and blending of tea has led to a drop in prices for real Darjeeling, resulting in considerable losses for the Indian economy. To prevent further tampering, the Tea Board of India jointly with the Darjeeling Tea Association have agreed that only 86 tea plantations, with special certificates, will be entitled to call their tea "Darjeeling".

Traditional Japanese Tea Pavilion

The Tea Pavilion is one of the most interesting monuments in the world of architecture. Which is unparalleled, not only in the West, but also in the Land of the Rising Sun. 
 
According to legend, a tea pavilion as a separate building, invented by Rikyu, the greatest of all Japanese tea ceremony masters, who in the XVI century determined its ritual. 
 
Formally, the tea pavilion (sukiya) is nothing more than a simple thatched hut. It consists of the tea room accommodating up to five people, ante-room (Mizuya) where all supplies for the ritual are washed and arranged before taking in the main room, awning (Matia) under which guests usually expect an invitation to enter, and a garden path (Rhodes) that is connecting the awning and the tea room. 
 
The Tea Pavilion is a very small building, but every detail in it is carefully chosen. Its construction is more expensive than the construction of a mansion, and the builders carrying out an order of a master of tea ceremony are very respectable caste. 
 
The style of the tea pavilion is very simple. The situation should help to forget the bustle of the material world, and not to compel attention to its transient luxury. 
 
Semantic center of the tea pavilion is Tokonoma, a kind of "red corner” of the tea room. During the tea ceremony, a painting, a scroll or an object that specifies a certain mood of the guests of the ceremony is placed in Tokonoma. Flowers - one of the most common attributes of the ritual, traditionally, placed inside. 
 
Hieroglyph for a tea pavilion (茶室), can be deciphered as "shelter of imagination", "shelter of emptiness" or "shelter asymmetry”. Tea Pavilion, being sparingly decorated, allows to activate the human imagination, which should complete the asymmetry of the place. 
 
Each tea pavilion is different and, indeed, is unique, as it is created for a specific master at his own request and according to his tastes. The Tea Pavilion is not inherited: when the master dies, the building dies. The Tea Pavilion is an attempt to feel the joy of individually experienced moments of life, rather than enduring symbol of eternity. 
 
In contrast to the lush of western interior, the interior of the Tea house is extremly simple. Only one piece of art, which is placed in Tokonoma, specifies a certain mindset. According to that piece of art, most often it is flowers or a special type and color of glassware, then the rest of accessories are selected.
 
No subject in the tea pavilion looks like any other by color or shape. Flowers are never combined with their images, a black bowl is not used in combinations with a black box for storing tea leaves, and even wooden objects are made of different types of trees. The awareness of imperfection and incompleteness is a way to comprehend the world around by trying to find one’s place in it and coming to harmony with it. 
 
Like everything else in the Japanese culture of tea, the pavilion is a symbol of a certain philosophy of life. A "man" is called to the consonance with the world, harmony, and gain in active spiritual poetic action, not passive contemplation of the surrounding reality, and even more so than merging with it in a wild dance of everyday life.

Tea: The Essence Of The Fragrance

The fragrance of tea depends on the essential oils and tar substances that are contained in plants. Essential oils are complex mixture of substances that belong to the most diverse class of compounds which are soluble in organic solvents and possessing the ability to escape from water vapor. Overall the total content of essential oil is minimal; it is determined by only hundredths of a percent. For example, aromatic black tea contains about 0.02% of oil. Pure essential oil of fresh tea leaf is a green color with a strong fragrance of fresh greens. In the technological processing of tea leaf occurs the formation of a new aromatic substances that contribute to the specific flavor of the finished product. Thus, the composition of essential oil of green plants is different from the finished black tea. The substances that make up the oils can be divided into 4 main classes of compounds: acids, carbonyl compounds, alcohols and phenols. These volatile compounds found in tea are trace amounts - 0.01% of dry matter, but their role in the establishment of the tea flavor is tremendous. 
 
Some parts of the plant contain different amounts of volatile compounds, which, in turn, differ in their compositions. The maximum concentration of essential oil found in the tender stems and leaves. The top leaf with the growing bud and two next leaves are equivalent to the content of essential oil. Further down the stem, as general coarsening occurs, oil content decreases. Which explains why the top three leaves are the most vaulable for high quality tea. 
 
In the formation of the aroma of tea, the main role is played by aromatic aldehydes (Organic compound that has OH-group in its structure. They are used in organic synthesis as fragrances). In the composition of essential tea oils are vanilla, lavender, cinnamon aldehydes, etc. During the processing of tea leaves into black tea, the various fractions of volatile compounds undergo significant changes. The total content of these compounds increases most radically in the early stages of rolling. In the process of withering the relative content of components with higher boiling point reduces and low-boiling point, on the contrary, increases. 
 
Along with essential oils important role in creating a tea aroma played by various resinous substances - carriers of flavor. They are in a close chemical relation with essential oils and are a complex mixture of different classes of organic compounds. 
 
The content of tarry substances in tea leaves ranges on average from 3% to 6%. These substances are separated by several fractions, the most valuable of which is a neutral faction. It has a pleasant sweet floral aroma. In the process of technological treatment , the amount of this fraction in tea leaves increases by 40%. 
 
During the processing of tea leaves, the content of resinous substances decreases, indicating the result of oxidation. I.e. ratio: fresh leaves – 3.48%, withered leaves – 3.27%, after two hours of curling – 2.92%, semi-finished product – 2.35%. 
 
Through fragrance of tea, all the deficiencies that have arisen as a result of violations of technological regimens or improper storage of products, can easily be found. Disadvantages may include: acidity, mustiness, smell of the green, smoke and other uncharacteristic for tea scents. Most difficult to improve defect is acidity, which results in a violation of the fermentation process. Since in the processing of tea leaves, especially during the fermentation, occurs a reduction of Tannin. Therefore, the tea produced in violation of this process turns out with a bitter flavor and pale color of infusion. The cause of the smell of greenery is an infringement of withering, rolling, and fermentation. Such a tea has a mild flavor that the brew is a greenish color in the cup with a greenish ring on the surface and instead of the characteristic astringent taste; this product has a bitter taste. If there is excessive moisture in semi-finished product (more than 7.5%) tea is aging much faster. For extended storage. it gets the smell of dampness and can come in unsuitable conditions for consumption. 
 
In addition, it is worth noting that different varieties of tea, as well as different ways of brewing, have an imprint on the final quality of the drink

The Mystery Of Oolong

Oolong

Chinese Wū long or Oolong is a type of tea located between green and black in the Chinese classification. In other words, Oolong is half-fermented tea. Oxidation ranges from 20% to 40%, and the most characteristic feature of this tea is that the leaves are fermented unevenly. Along the edges of the tea leaf fermentation can be quite astringent, almost like black tea with well pronounced reddish rim around a leaf but in the center of leaf fermentation, is very weak, close to green teas. As a result, Oolongs have a wonderful aroma and taste that combines the freshness of green tea and tartness of black tea.

Oolong combines the best qualities of both green and black teas. Some highly fermented Oolongs give a fairly dark brown-reddish infusion. However, such Oolongs constitute only a small share of the vast diversity of this type of tea. Basic and famous Oolongs have a gentle light yellowish or greenish tinge honey extract. By appearance of the infusion, they are closer to green teas and by taste - to black teas. A good Oolong is both refreshing and delicious with no trace of bitterness and stronger aroma than any green or black teas. Oolong is a well known type of Chinese tea used in ceremonies. A widely-used ceremonial method of brewing Oolongs in Taiwan and China is called Gongfu Cha. For a complete appreciation of the taste of this tea, tea pairing is recommended: tea bowl and snifter cup used to appreciate the tea's aroma. Tea poured into a snifter cup and a drinking bowl is placed upside down over the top of the snifter cup. Then the two are inverted so that the snifter cup is upside down in the drinking bowl. The final stage is when the snifter cup is lifted and the tea is released into the drinking bowl. After all this manipulations, tea drinkers can respectfully receive the aroma and then enjoy the taste.
 
There are two main types of Oolong that are grown and harvested in China and Taiwan, the mainland and island tea. The next classification is the type of traditional treatment and characteristics of climate and soil. Oolongs grow high in the mountains, shrouded in fog, on the poor stony soils. The quality of tea depends on the orientation of the slope, the number of fogs during the growth and professionalism of collectors, who manually collect and sort out the tea leaves in difficult mountain conditions.  
 
Oolong often resembles the form of twisted lumps consisting of strongly folded and compressed whole leaves. When touched, the lumps are elastic and dense. Fresh tea should be slightly shiny and have a strong fragrant. During the brewing process, the tea leaves unfold, expend and consume the entire volume of the teapot when steeped 2-3 times. Usually, Oolong brewed with water temperature of 176-194º F for 3-4 minutes. A teapot 150 ml takes about one heaped teaspoon. Expensive Oolongs can withstand multiple infusions up to 20-25 times. The fragrance of tea can vary from delicate peach tones to astringent walnut, with a corresponding color change of infusions darker with each subsequent brewing. There are varieties of oolong that color does not change and remains yellow-green, while others, originally given infusions of intense color give a pale infusion each subsequent brewing.

Oolong tea is the most diverse among Chinese teas in terms of taste and appearance . Oolong is tea-perfection conceived by Heaven and Earth. 

Ceylon Tea - A Brief History Of Sri Lanka

Ceylon Black Tea

Ceylon (Sri Lanka) tea can also be attributed to "India". This island located close to India which produces the same amount of tea as the mainland plantations, and even more generating roughly $700 million annually. Cultivation of tea in Sri Lanka started accidentally. Up until the 1860’s, Ceylon was only for coffee plantations, but due to sudden fungal disease called “coffee rust” most of the coffee trees have died and brought the downfall of coffee production, then igniting an era of tea. In 1867 the first tea plantation in Ceylon was laid by Scott James Taylor in Kandy. He became the father of tea cultivation in Ceylon. In 1890’s Sir Thomas Lipton visited Ceylon and founded his own tea plantations and factories for tea processing focused on the needs of British consumers. Ceylon black teas are divided into three main types: high-grown (1,200 meters above sea level), mid-grown (600-1,200 m) and low-grown (up to 600 m). The share of high-altitude, high-quality tea is relatively small; it is the finest plantations in Nuwara Eliya that are located at an altitude 6,128 ft. Good quality tea are also harvested on the plantations: Dimbula ( altitude ranging between 3,500 ft to 5,000 ft), Uva province( altitude ranging between 3,500 ft to 5,000 ft) and Ratnapura (low-grown tea).

Indian tea Nuwara Eliya is the highest tea region in the world and considered one of the most important locations for tea production in Sri Lanka. Tea produced in Nuwara Eliya has a very unique flavor. Tea leaves gather year around, but the best yields are in January-March. Tea leaves in this region are plucked at dawn, it is the time when leaf retains its freshness and then displays it in the brewed beverage. Sometimes the tea from Nuwara Eliya  called the "champagne of tea", as well as some teas from Darjeeling province in northern India. This tea gives a tincture of golden color, delicate and refined flavor and slightly astringent taste.

Uva region is situated in the south-eastern part of Sri Lanka in the mountains, which are located on the slopes of the plantation growers an excellent tea. Uva area’s tea is widely used for blends such as English Breakfast Black Tea Blend, Irish Breakfast Black Tea Blend, Morning Tea…etc.  A distinctive feature of tea from this district is a golden-reddish infusion, excellent flavor and a wonderful taste.

In the Dimbula area most tea plantations are located on the south-eastern slopes. The best tea is obtained in January-March, when the weather is dry and cold (for this latitude) and is determining factor of flavor. The main characteristic of the local tea is the aroma of a faint lemon note. The taste of the tea is full, with a little tartness, the infusion is bright and reddish color.