A Quick History of Darjeeling Tea
Darjeeling tea it is one of the somewhat “hidden gems” of the Indian tea world, oftentimes overlooked when people think about the most popular teas grown in India.
To be fair, however, plenty of people worldwide go crazy for spiced chai and dark amber black tea coming out of India which is why Darjeeling gets a little bit overlooked in the first place!
At the same time, many now considered Darjeeling tea to be the most interesting of all the options coming out of India right now – a delicate, seductive, unique tea that tastes quite unlike anything available elsewhere on the planet.
If you’re interested in learning a little bit more about everything that Darjeeling brings to the table you’re going to want to check out the rest of this quick guide!
Believe it or not, even though tea coming out of India is incredibly popular worldwide now these plants – and these teas, teas like Darjeeling – are relative newcomers to the East Asia region.
In fact, Darjeeling tea wasn’t even really grown throughout India until the second half of the 1800s, almost entirely by accident. It turns out that a British man, a Dr. Campbell, was taking a holiday in the Darjeeling region of India and decided it would be a fantastic place to grow some tea – and that’s when he scavenged together a bunch of different Chinese seeds, combine them into one big crop, and allowed them to cross-pollinate.
It took a couple of decades but the tea that grew in the Darjeeling region was completely different than anything else found throughout India (or the rest of the world, for that matter) it remains consistent today.
The tea became so popular in the latter half of the 1800s that the government of India (with some pretty heavy pressure from the British) began domesticating these crossbred tea plants throughout the Darjeeling region. A number of plantations were established almost overnight and today legitimate Darjeeling tea MUST be grown from this region of India.
How and Where Darjeeling Tea is Grown and Harvested
As we just mentioned a moment ago, Darjeeling tea – to be 100% legitimate Darjeeling tea – has to be grown in the northern region of West Bengal in India.
This is the only location on the planet that has the very specific terroir necessary for Darjeeling to establish its distinct flavor profile. Just like champagne can only come from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France, any Darjeeling tea plant grown outside of this region isn’t the “real deal” and will inevitably taste a little bit different.
The people that grow Darjeeling plant and harvest their tea in specific sets of time that they call “flushes”. Grown all year round, each individual flush is designed to bring about very specific properties in the tea itself – with the early year (spring) flushes regularly prized as the best of the bunch.
This early flush, call the first flush, are picked just after winter has subsided. This is when the flavor is most delicate when it is most interesting, and when it has the “freshest” flavors of all the different Darjeeling types.
The second flush occurs a little later in the year, and this is where the great like flavors are going to start to establish themselves and take hold. The later into the second flush the more current and stone fruit presents itself in the finished product.
The next flush happens during monsoon season and results in the “muddiest” flavors you can get with Darjeeling tea. The tea is still harvested during this season but it is the least popular in the least flavorful of all the yearly flushes.
The final flush occurs in the fall, presenting a very deep copper color with a full body and a complex and robust flavor profile. The first and second flushes are the most popular of the bunch to be sure, though the monsoon and fall flush options are probably the most prevalent and widely commercially available options you’ll find on the market today.
What Makes Darjeeling Tea So Popular?
Truth be told, a big part of the popularity of Darjeeling tea has to do with the fact that it is incredibly rare – at least the legitimate Darjeeling tea is, anyway.
Each and every year only about 11,000 tons of Darjeeling tea are grown throughout the Darjeeling region of India, and that’s across each of the four flushes that we highlighted above. Only two of those flushes are really prized for their unique flavor profile, which means that you’re looking at just over 5500 tons of Darjeeling tea each year being truly sought after.
At the same time, every year 40,000 tons of tea gets sold annually as Darjeeling – which means that the overwhelming majority of Darjeeling tea available out there that anyone particular point in time is 100% counterfeit or simply not grown in the Darjeeling region.
That might sound like a lot of tea, but a single region in the southern part of India pumps out north of 680,000 tons of black tea annually – and that’s just in that one small part of the same country!
It’s not at all surprising that legitimate, authentic, and first or second flush Darjeeling tea gets pretty expensive in a hurry. Monsoon and fall flush tea are a little less expensive to be sure, but you sacrifice some of the quality and some of the flavor profile with those options for sure.
Tips for Brewing Darjeeling Tea
Because legitimate Darjeeling tea options are 100% cultivated by hand and processed in a very traditional manner – not to mention pretty expensive – it’s important that you do your level best to respect this tea and brew it in a way that brings out all of its best properties.
It’s important to remember that Darjeeling tea is a black tea variant, which means you’re going to want to use water that is slightly under the boiling point (around 200°F) to steep your tea.
It’s also a good idea to shoot for between two and five minutes of steeping time depending on your specific tastes, really trying hard not to go beyond five minutes is a flavor can get muddied and a little bit of stringent when you do.
Health Benefits of Darjeeling Tea
For starters, Darjeeling is absolutely swimming and powerful antioxidants – including the antioxidants capable of fighting back against free radicals that cause cellular damage throughout the body. Catechins, the antioxidants we are talking about, may even be able to slow down the aging process.
You’re also going to find up to 10 times the amount of polyphenols and antioxidants in Darjeeling that you’ll find in otherwise antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. That’s a game-changer!
There also happens to be a tremendous amount of powerful flavonoids contained within Darjeeling tea that can help you improve your heart health and overall cardiovascular wellness.
According to studies produced by the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (based out of Boston) those that drink Darjeeling on a regular basis significantly reduce their risk of heart attack by 44% compared to those that do not.
Another team of independent researchers based out of Taiwan has found that drinking 2 cups of Darjeeling on a daily basis has the ability to reduce your LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and overall cholesterol levels significantly.
Those that drink these 2 cups a day were able to reduce their risk factors for hypertension by 46% as well, a big bonus for those with medical histories or pre-existing conditions that trend towards high blood pressure.
The American Gastroenterological Association recently published research that showed individuals consuming 2 cups of Darjeeling a day were able to fight back against chronic liver disease, too. It appears as though Darjeeling has a natural ability to lower the risk factors of increased liver enzymes as well as instances of cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Potential Side Effects of Darjeeling Tea
You likely aren’t going to have to worry about any serious side effects caused by drinking Darjeeling tea, especially if you keep your daily consumption to between two and 4 cups a day.
Those that consume significantly more tea than that of a daily basis did report some mild side effects, however – side effects that included:
- Headaches and migraines
- Nervousness and agitation
- Sleeping issues and insomnia
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- An irregular heartbeat
- Dizziness and confusion
Thankfully though, almost all of these side effects subsided just as soon as individuals stop drinking a tremendous amount of Darjeeling a day and cut back to just 2 cups every 24 hours.
At the end of the day, Darjeeling has prized the world over for its unique flavors, it’s incredible health-boosting properties, and the fact that it is one of the most unique cups of tea you’ll ever have an opportunity to prepare for yourself (or have prepared for you).
Yes, legitimate and authentic Darjeeling tea – particularly from the first and second flushes – can be very expensive and difficult to source. But almost everyone that has had a cup of this tea agrees that it is well worth the splurge whenever you have an opportunity to do so.