Darjeeling: The Champagne of all teas

by Steven Popec 13. May 2010 00:16

 

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".

Ayurveda is a Doctrine Of Life, Health, Endurance, and Equilibrium Part 1

by Elena Popec 26. April 2010 13:05

In the last decade, Ayurveda concepts have become very common and fortunately, made people think again about their health. Therefore, more and more people are beginning to be interested in Ayurvedic teaching. Many do not know that Ayurveda is much more than a massage with oils or an art of relaxation. Ayurveda is an ancient doctrine which arose in the traditional Indian philosophy and was first described in ancient Indian writings, the Vedas. The term "Ayurveda" comes from Sanskrit words "Ayur" meaning "life" and "veda" - "knowledge", "doctrine". Thus, this concept can be translated as "the science of life." In the heart of yoga and meditation is also Vedic knowledge. Ayurveda has survived primarily because of the revival of Vedic master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who opened the old knowledge to the modern world. For nearly twenty years of this vast topic of Ayurveda experts are engaged, as well as western doctors and scientists. The Ayurvedic doctrine is also described as an “integrated combination of the empirical doctrine of nature and philosophy” which focuses on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects which are necessary to human health.

Submission of a man in Ayurveda

Ayurveda considers not only the human body, but the unity of body, mind and spirit in their relationship with the surrounding world and nature. Each person is different from each other, physically and mentally. With Ayurvedic extensive and integrated examination of nature, human beings in nature and all that surrounds it, Ayurveda is the doctrine of Medicine, which focuses on the concern for the preservation of health. While modern medicine considers mainly a disease and its symptoms, thus engaging the body, not spirit, or analyzes the impact on the human body. The starting point of Ayurveda is different, finding the right balance, or rather the balance of the three defining concepts of Ayurveda, so-called Doshas.

- Vata (Wind, Air, Pneuma)
- Pitta (Fire and Water, Chole)
- Kapha (Earth and Water, Phlegma)

The essence of the Ayurvedic doctrine is that the Doshas should be harmoniously balanced and this can be supported with the addtion of certain spices.

Basic principles of Ayurveda

Everyone has a balance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, which is constantly changing. Mental state, time of the year and day continuously affect the individual balance and the balance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. This equilibrium is not constant, it changes all the time. One might say that human health constantly updates; therefore a human being is a self-regulating system. However, the ability of the organism to self-regulation can be exhausted. For example, this may occur because of high level of irritation, stress, malnutrition, or due to the fact that in our sometimes too loud world, the human being loses the ability to listen to itself, enjoy the silence and cognize the quiet force in itself. Or, in other words, one may lose the ability to appreciate the moment without having a special occasion to celebrate.  Initially, Ayurveda strives to create an environment in which it will be possible to avoid disturbances. Therefore, the teaching of Ayurveda is the guidance for the construction of life: food, drink, sleep, choosing a partner, and more. These instructions are given to man to have three doshas (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) in equilibrium. Thus, Ayurveda is a system of healing, which aims to maintain health. The slightest disturbance can lead to illness and disease. Conversely, small corrections in the style of life entail improvements. And, of course, according to the teachings of Ayurveda, everything that exists in the world can be used as a medicine.

Stay tuned for part 2 as we will examine the three Doshas.

The Origins Of British Tea Traditions

by Elena Popec 6. April 2010 21:21

 

Loose Leaf Tea

The origin of tea traditions of England is obliged to one of the most beautiful women in the middle of XVII century. In 1662 Charles II married princess Catherine of Braganza from Portugal. The Portuguese had been the first Europeans that encountered tea, controlled the trade routes from Asia and drank this wonderful beverage. Chest with tea leaves, among other treasures was in bride’s dowry. According to tradition, the new queen’s passion for tea was appreciated in court, and soon became the most popular drink in the chambers of Buckingham Palace. Inventive British replaced the eastern bowls for cups and saucers and used tea spoons for sugar that also entered into vogue in the XVII century.

The British aristocracy recognized only the tea from the youngest and most succulent of the upper leaves, which are called "Orange Pekoe". "Orange" comes from the Dutch word meaning "gold, royal, belonging to the Dutch royal House of Orange-Nassau," and "Pekoe" - from the Chinese word "leaf". Because The Dutch East India Company played a central role in introducing tea to Europe, perhaps, they could have marketed the tea as "Orange" to propose a royal warrant. However, in modern classification of common tea leaf grades "Orange Pekoe" stands for "royal leaf".

The real revolution in the tea business actually began in 1837 with the ascension to the throne of the young Queen Victoria. China was unable to meet the increased demand in Europe and began to supply the market with product of insufficient quality. At the time, relations between Great Britain and China had escalated. In response to the British sanctions, China has imposed an embargo on trade with Britain. But the decisive Queen Victoria signed a decree of establishing the state tea company in the British colony - the North Indian province of Assam. Mayor of the Royal Guard, Robert Bruce and his brother Charles crossed breeded seeds smuggled out of China with local tea trees. Thus was launched a completely new variety with bright color and a strong astringent taste. In memory of those events, one of the types of English tea from Assam is named "Victorian".

By the middle of the XIX century, Britain became the largest tea supplier, capable of providing not only the needs of the empire, but also neighboring countries. The Assam black tea from the Indian colony of Great Britain, Russians merchants carried by caravans and sold in the capital's shops, "colonial goods" under the name "Indian tea". Taste of Assam for Russians still is the most familiar and traditional.

In XX century, the British voluntarily renounced the former "tea" colonies and focused the effort on improving the quality of tea blends. This act has reflected on a nation-wide British love for tea. Continuing the Victorian tradition, modern tea masters - tea testers - offer demanding connoisseurs of tea a wide variety of traditional and exotic flavors. English tea has long gone beyond the United Kingdom, and in many countries today, tea lovers enjoy impeccable taste, intelligence and respect for people.

 

The History Of Tea From India

by Steven Popec 9. March 2010 16:48

India Black Tea

Tea consumption in India has a long history, South Asians viewed tea as an herbal medicine rather than as a recreational beverage. Although commercially, tea is being cultivated in India is relatively recently - within the second half of the 19th century. However, in the foothills of the Himalayas in the north and north-eastern regions of country, tea trees grew before the arrival of the British. For centuries, tea has not been cultivated but only gathered from wild trees. There is a legend that British merchants transported a few tea bushes from China and planted them in the plains of India, by the time they occupied and colonized by Britain. From those few bushes, started a global cultivation of tea in India and Ceylon. It happened in the thirties of the 19th century when the British East India Company became concerned about the Chinese monopoly on tea that constituted most of its trade and supported the enormous consumption of tea in Great Britain. After the first successful experience in 1863, the British East India Company brought to India a large batch of germs and after 10 years of hard work, the tea plantations give the first crop. In 1870, over 90% of the tea consumed in Great Britain was still of Chinese origin but by 1900, this had dropped to 10%, largely replaced by tea grown in India and Ceylon. Success has created several companies, many of which still sell tea and are known throughout the world. India's success on the international market is mainly due to accommodating the special English taste for strong tea, adequate for chalky water.

High quality tea in India is growing on mountain slopes which are very steep (up to 70 degrees). Plantations are located on terraces which rings encircle the mountain slopes. These high quality grades of tea gather exclusively by women and only manually. The tea plucking process takes place usually at the break of dawn. Manufacturers are trying to make tea of the highest class, twisted leaf tea and no broken leaves.

There are two main areas of growth of Indian tea: Darjeeling and Assam. Important cultivation areas are, apart from Darjeeling and Assam:

Dooars - west of Assam, mainly production of CTC teas.

Nilgiri - South Indian tea district, fresh teas, similar to those of Sri Lanka

Sikkim - north east of Darjeeling, high-quality teas

Terrai - south of Darjeeling, similar to Darjeeling, somewhat more herb in taste.

India Tea Plantation

Today India is the second largest producer of quality black tea and the first one of the middle and low-grade "bulk" teas, CTC. A large portion of this "simple" tea stays in the country; locals are very fond of drinking tea (a modest 750 grams per person a year), it is quite different in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Although these countries are close neighbors, the locals hardly drink tea, and the entire Ceylon crop is exported.  A small proportion of green teas are produced in India as well and mainly for Japan that buys simpler varieties to add them to their own production.

Assam is a tea district in Northern India across the Brahmaputra. It is the largest connected tea growing region in the world. The plateau with highly arable rainforest soil contains a lot of humidity due to the prevailing monsoon winds. The local climatic conditions, especially rainfall, create a greenhouse effect which positively affects the quality of tea leaf. Tea plants are cultivated in tea gardens on large cultivatable land of up to 1,000 hectares. There are about 2,000 plantations in Assam. Assam tea is generally heavy and spicy, dark in the cup. It is the main component of the classical English and East Frisian blends which are prepared for water with high chalk contents and are usually drunk with milk and sugar. Since the appearance of the young tea traders on the international market, especially from Africa, Assam was largely driven out of this market by the cheaper tea varieties.
 
Harvesting Periods

Mid April to Late May: First Flush. These qualities are of rather little economic significance for the European or US market. These teas are mostly aromatically fresh, light and of rather tart character. For this reason they do not meet the traditional Assam features.

Early June/Mid August: Second Flush. The second flush, harvested in June/August, before the large monsoon rain starts, is highly demanded. Assam teas from the second plucking period are of greater relevance in terms of quality and the export business. These qualities are often very “colored” in tips, with a pouring that is mostly very dark and has a typical strong, full-spicy and malty character.
 
The oldest tea gardens in Assam were founded in 1832-33 by English trade agencies. In 1839, the first Assam tea appeared in a London action. The Assam region is bordered by China, Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh. Assam is one of the most beautiful places in the world and in all respects, is one of the best places for the cultivation of black tea.

Darjeeling is a region in the North-Eastern India, located at the southern slopes of the Himalaya Mountains. Darjeeling is the most famous tea region of India. Tea gardens are located at altitudes of up to 2,600 meters above sea level on an area of 20 thousand hectares and produce the most exquisite types in the world. Darjeeling borders with China and Bhutan. The special microclimate of the region is ideal for growing elite types of tea also called “champagne of tea”. Black Orthodox tea from Darjeeling (Indians pronounce the name with the accent on the second syllable) are considered one of the most delicate and fragrant teas in the world, competing with the best Chinese varieties and very often surpassing them. The unique taste of tea from Darjeeling is highly valued by tea lovers and experienced connoisseurs. The best tea grows in the coldest part of the terrain, at an altitude of 2,600 meters. The color of the infusion is deep burgundy with a green tint.
 
Harvesting Periods

March-May: First Flush is in March, as soon as the weather is good after the end of the vegetation break, the first soft leaves and buds of the first period are plucked. The characteristics of a good F.F. Darjeeling are a lively fresh, delightful flowery aroma and a honey color of the infusion. This tea is sold at auctions, and prices are several times higher than the subsequent charges from the same plantation.

May-June: In between crop – the qualified “trailer” of the first flush season does have a particular connection with the first touches of the second flush period. 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-quality. Due to the high demand, the prices are not as cheap.

June-July: Second Flush. The summer crop is the summit in a crop year. The tea leaves develop more aroma by the longer exposure to sun. The most important quality features of a classical S.F. tea are dark brown leafs with golden tips and the color of infusion is soft amber. Taste is full-bodied with a distinctive nutmeg note. The second collection is no less interesting and appreciated by connoisseurs, sometimes higher than the first crop.

October-November: Autumnal crop. After another period of rain in late summer and until the vegetation lull in November, fully aromatic but somewhat mild teas are plucked.

Nilgiri is one of the major tea regions of India, located in the south of the country, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The tea gardens in Nilgiri are small compared to plantations in Assam. Tea in Nilgiri is cultivated on altitudes between 800-2,000 meters above the sea level. Tea plantations are surrounded by snow-covered mountains and luxuriant growing jungle. In 1840, the first tea seedlings had been planted, thanks to good climatic conditions, the seedlings became well acclimated and the basis for future plantations.
Nilgiri takes second place in India in volume of black tea production. Frequent monsoon rains, high average annual temperatures, allow the great cultivation of tea all year. Tea gathers unite in Nilgiri twice a year:  in spring (April-May) and second flush in autumn (September-December), the best being the spring collection. The Nilgiri tea is a main component of so-called English blend. The tea of these regions is full-bodied, with a bright infusion, mild taste and can be distinguished by a fresh citrus scent which is reminiscent of the Ceylon high-growns.

Black Tea

Most of the Indian tea is used for mixtures or blends. Different companies make a blend for a large consignment of tea, which is then packaged and sent to consumers. Naturally, the composition of blends from time to time changes, so there is a practice such as a sampling of tea. Similar to the in the selection of wine, tasting is needed prior to purchase of product in order to understand which tea is the best. There are companies (mostly British) that have their own tea testers in the tea factories located in India, whose main task is to monitor the quality and stability of tea taste, regardless of the crop. To do such, they select from several tea plantations and make trial blends, the best of them becomes a model for the party. There are four varieties of Indian tea that is sold unblended: Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri (also used in blends) and Sikkim. Sikkim Tea is a new variety introduced in late 1980, but has already won the position on the market of tea. This delicious and sweet tea is reminiscent to the taste of Darjeeling tea and Assamese tea aroma. One can say that it occupies an intermediate position between these two titans.

Black tea from India can be brewed in several ways. Brewing methods of tea depends on its type and grade. Chinese method: more loose leaf tea leaves and less time of brewing, English method: 1 tsp of tea leaves per 6oz cup and a long (3-5 minutes) brewing process, or Indian method: very strong tea infusion, hot milk and a lot of sugar. All three methods have their unique characteristics, and each way is good for its type of tea.  The Chinese way is suitable for any Indian tea, but best of all, it reveals aromas of delicate high grade tea varieties such as teas Darjeeling. The English method does not allow steeping the tea more than twice. If you prefer to drink tea, as it is loved in England, with milk or cream, then pour the cream into a cup prior to the tea slightly heated. Fine broken leaf grades are very popular in India, where English tradition of drinking tea with milk has spread in a transformed way. Brewing using the Indian style is a very intense brewing method. Tea leaves are steeped with hot milk, water and a lot of sugar. Then the infusion is poured from one tall glass into another to create the appearance of abundant foam. This very thick drink, with a nice color, can hardly be called tea; however, the Indians are very fond of it and consumed in large quantities. This method is also used to prepare a strong tea with milk and spices called Masala Chai. Some of the chai masala spice mixtures are still in current use are derived from Ayurvedic medical texts.

ESP Emporium
offers an amazing selection of black tea – the most popular drink in the world. Vast selection of high quality tea from India presents all the most magnificent types from Darjeeling and Assam, First and Second Flush, pure and blended. Worth to give it a try!

 

 

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