Last Updated: May 16, 2016
I was heading for Darjeeling and having a chat with the jeep driver as I sat next to him. He mentioned that there are three 'T's that form the pillars of Darjeeling's economy - Tea, Tourism and Teak, but tea is the oldest and the strongest out of all.
Everybody in Darjeeling knows how deeply the people here are connected with tea gardens. Tea plantation in Darjeeling have not only given new life to countless Nepalese in the hills, but have also placed Darjeeling and India prominently into the world tea market.
Darjeeling has gone on to become the world leader in producing highest quality tea, a position which it has proudly retained for well over a century. Like the Champagne of wines, Darjeeling tea is the ultimate tea and unique in the sense that it can only be produced in Darjeeling hills.
The slope of the hills, the soil condition, the mist, the cool Himalayan breeze, amount of rainfall and many other factors all come together to make a unique combination that helps producing the tea which has its own unique natural aroma and flavor. Newly planted tea bushes take 6 to 9 years to mature. Older and deeper roots create increased muscatel flavor in the leaves. There are many gardens with bushes that are over 100 years old.
Darjeeling Tea (Black)
On top of all these, Darjeeling tea is still processed using the orthodox method of withering, rolling, fermenting, drying & sorting with delicate human care and skills. All these make Darjeeling tea so exclusive and special. Tea Board of India stated and the world has recognized that such tea production can not be replicated anywhere else in the world. Because such natural factors and century old human practices are nearly impossible to replicate at other places.
History of Darjeeling Tea
The story of Darjeeling Tea started in 1800s when the East India Company's as well as British Empire's main earnings were based on taxes on tea import. Those days the company depended on importing tea from China and reselling them. It was a hugely profitable business. But having lost their monopoly in China Tea Trade in 1833, they had to quickly find an alternative source of tea supply and keep it under their own control. Find out how Darjeeling popped up to be that premier source and finally went on to dominate the world with the highest quality of tea ever produced. Read History of Darjeeling Tea
Types, Flavors & Grades of Darjeeling Tea
If you think that Darjeeling tea is only about the garden where it is produced, then please read on. It's true that due to intense rivalry the gardens strive to create their own personalities when it comes to taste. But Darjeeling tea comes in different varieties or types, in each variety there are unique flavors that depend on the season when the tea is harvested, and within each variety and flavor, there are grades that depend on the size of the tea leaves. Read Types, Flavors & Grades of Darjeeling Tea
How is Darjeeling Tea Processed
After selective plucking, Darjeeling Black Tea which is the most popular type in the world, goes through several stages including withering, rolling, fermenting, drying, sorting and packing. Great art, experience and skills come into play while the flavors and aroma are developed. Even within a step, several delicate adjustments are made to get the signature flavors. Green and white tea undergo variations in processing and skip several stages to retain the natural chemicals. Check out the above link to know all about how various types of Darjeeling tea are processed in the garden factory. More info...
Tea Tasting in Darjeeling
Once the tea is processed in the factories, it is time for the professional tea tasters to taste tea prepared from different grades of tea leaves of the gardens and determine the quality of tea leaves. This is done mainly from the flavors. And this quality or grade eventually commands the price of Darjeeling tea in the market. In the link above, I have shared my experience of a tea tasting session in a tea factory in Darjeeling. More info on tea tasting...
Tea Estates in Darjeeling
There are several gardens in Darjeeling that are over 150 years old and were established in 1800s during the British days. They are still operational today with tea bushes that have lived through time. In all, there are now 86 gardens in Darjeeling district. Check out the above link to know about all the main gardens in Darjeeling, their background stories, main offerings, production capacity, location, area covered, contacts and many other details. More info on Tea Estates in Darjeeling
Darjeeling Tea - Present & Future
Since its commercialization, plantation and production of tea in Darjeeling had grown in leaps and bound. Year after year new gardens haven opened up and the quality of tea only kept improving due to growing competition between the gardens, improved technology and innovation. The first world war put a check to the influx of Nepalese garden workers and later India's independence forced the change of ownership from British to Indian planters. So did all that impact the tea gardens in Darjeeling? Where does Darjeeling Tea Industry stand today and can it retain its leadership position in world tea market and keep growing further from here? More info on Darjeeling Tea Industry
Darjeeling Tea Garden Tours (Tea Tourism)
Tea tourism is catching up big time in this part of the country. Several tea estates in Darjeeling offer tea tourism which essentially means experiencing the garden life while enjoying luxury amenities and comfort. Tea garden tour or tea tourism is about staying in the tea garden (many estates offer the original but upgraded planters' bungalows with modern amenities), watching the garden workers pluck tea, enjoying the serene garden atmosphere, learning about the tea manufacturing process in the tea factory, experiencing the village life and culture of the workers, hiking the nature trails, and indulging into many other nature activities. More info on Darjeeling Tea Garden Tours & Stays
Best places to drink & buy tea in Darjeeling
Find out which are the great tea lounges and outlets in Darjeeling if you are planning to taste and buy pure Darjeeling tea of fine quality in the hill town. There are some that are outlets of specific tea estates and offer tea of that garden, while the others are collectors of tea and source from various gardens in Darjeeling. More info on Best places to drink & buy tea in Darjeeling
How to make a cup of Darjeeling tea
There are many intricate steps in making a great cup of Darjeeling tea. Just having authentic tea leaves is not good enough to guarantee the right flavor and aroma. In fact, there are several other factors that are equally important. Without ensuring those you will only keep striving to reach that elusive combination of taste, fragrance and color that Darjeeling tea is known for. Check out the link to know about how to correctly prepare different types of Darjeeling tea (black, green, oolong and white) and get genuine flavor, aroma and color. More info on how to make a cup of Darjeeling tea