It’s no coincidence that Darjeeling is one of the most well-known tea regions in the world. High up in the hills, the specially selected small-leafed varietals of the tea bush are overlooked by snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Each bush thriving in the cool, mountain climate and making the most of everything this terroir has to offer – steep slopes, abundant water, mists and distinct seasons – to deliver the unique flavours of the area. In the case of this batch, the leaves share the unique taste of summer in Darjeeling. A taste infused with a balmy warmth, fruitiness, grassy notes and even wildflowers.
This new batch of Organic Darjeeling Second Flush celebrates the summer season from three organic gardens – gardens within the region which thanks to their ambitious owners and guardians are the richest in biodiversity, wildlife and crucially naturally healthy soil. From this healthy soil, the cleanest flavour of Darjeeling can be found.
Having been enjoying drinking this new batch for the last week, I’ve put together my top tips for making this tea, as well as suggesting who I think will enjoy it and a little detail about what and who makes Darjeeling such a rightly revered tea region.
Origin: Barnesbeg, Okayti and Pussimbing Gardens in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
Cultivar: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis
Name: Second Flush refers to this being made from leaves picked during the summer (end May – June) season.
Style: Black tea, orthodox production
Terroir: These organic gardens are in the foothills of the Himalayas; high up the mountains where the bushes are often surrounded by protective mist and leaves grow slowly and so have time to develop significant fragrance and flavour.
Picking Season: Spring/Summer 2020
Leaf: Deep brown and dusky gold leaves with silvery tips
Infusion: Clear russet-orange
How did we source this batch of tea and who made it?
The rolling green hills of Darjeeling and their lively, dumpling-loving residents have been producing their distinctive, highly fragrant tea in the shadows of some of the mightiest Himalayan peaks like Kanchenjunga for almost two centuries. The second or summer flush is one of the very best expressions of this mountainous terroir, so every year it’s one of the most important teas on our sourcing calendar.
Tom, our Head of Tea, usually bases himself in Darjeeling for a week or so in March, visiting individual gardens in search of the very best of the year’s first flush. Hospitality in Darjeeling is exemplary, no visit to a garden or catch up with a producer is without at least a few homemade biscuits, a plate of dumplings, fresh sandwiches and samosas, a sundowner – and usually a whole lot more. It's always well received too, as travel between individual gardens involves long but beautiful car journeys, navigating the steep hills and narrow roads that link the 87 gardens. Upon arrival, it’s often a warm climb into the hills to appreciate the best of that specific garden, and to see the individual garden’s position within the area. Over the course of these spring trips, with their tastings, hikes, conversations, and hospitality, we’ve come to know the gardens, their managers and their individual styles very well.
These relationships were invaluable in 2020, when for the first time ever no one from JING was able to travel to any tea gardens. Instead, grounded by the pandemic, Tom sourced all the teas from his home in London, speaking to producers early in the mornings and tasting samples from his kitchen table. Adding to Tom’s challenge, at the same time last year, we made a commitment to making at least 80% of our range of teas organic by the end of 2021. Undaunted for this tea, Tom was able to rely on the relationships he’d built up – each relationship meaning the tea garden managers and producers had a good idea of what we look for in a Darjeeling 2nd Flush, and so were able to share their most relevant samples.
We’re always looking for clarity, brightness of flavour, and tea that encapsulates the specific character of the place it’s been grown in. To create this ultimate expression of the balmy summers in Darjeeling, we’re balancing finding teas which deliver supreme refreshment, lots of black tea warmth and the abundant fragrances of Darjeeling, which range from fruity to grassy to floral.
Tasting teas from the organic gardens dotted across the 600 or so square kms of the region, Tom eventually selected batches from three different gardens – Pussimbing, Okayti and Barnesbeg – to blend together to create this tea.
Much like the process for creating our Assam Breakfast, each garden brings something different and while all three teas are excellent on their own, they are also enhanced by coming together. They share the signature Darjeeling fragrant black tea depth, but when tasting them side by side it’s possible to see that the tea from Pussimbing brings a lot of the sweet grape fruitiness. The name Pussimbing translates as “full of natural streams”, and this garden converted to organic in 1994. As such, this is a place that’s truly abundant in nature. The streams, high altitude, greenery and situation mean Pussimbing is shrouded in mist for much of the year – even more so than the other gardens – and so the leaves grow slowly. As they’re protected from the sun, they have the best opportunity to develop their sweet fruit distinction.
The component from Barnesbeg is light and sweet and the large leaves have an almost green-fresh tinge to them – reminiscent of the sweet, thick body they bring to the blend. Barnesbeg, in the far North West of the region has been organic for the past ten years, and so is again a place brimming with nature – butterflies, hornbills and even panthers are spotted in the garden regularly. Although it’s a relatively small garden, the team who run it are ambitious in terms of their commitment to the environment and organic practices, but also in their production. They use their years of experience to try new techniques and constantly test and tweak production. They are one of the original experimenters in the area of green tea production and use everything they learn to coax the best flavours out of their tea leaves.
Okayti Tea Estate is one of the highest in the region, with some of the bushes growing more than 1,900m up. The terrain is steep and so the bushes lie among waterfalls. The leaves in this family-run garden also, therefore, grow very slowly, taking time to develop their rich flavours. The Okayti in our Darjeeling Second Flush has an incredible concentration of strength, as well as grape sweetness and a clean and pure fragrance.
What is this batch like to drink?
Darjeeling tea is lighter and more fragrant than other Indian black teas like Assam Breakfast. As soon as you make a cup of this Organic Second Flush, you’ll notice the aromas straight away as it’s a highly aromatic tea.
There’s a clear citrus note which gives a hint of what’s to come – a light, crisp and refreshing black drink. There’s also a warmth to the tea which is reminiscent of summer. You’ll find tasting notes of toasted hay and hops, which make it very easy to be almost transported to a freshly cut field in the late summer with every sip.
It’s the subtle grape sweetness that make this drink unmistakably a tea from Darjeeling. It really does encapsulate the freshness of Darjeeling’s green hills when they’re thick with lush vegetation, in the warm, balmy summer season.
Where and when is this tea for?
I think this tea makes for perfect afternoon drinking when your palate is alive enough to notice and appreciate the fragrant and aromatic nature, and when you want something that will uplift you, but not overwhelm with strength. Black tea with its comforting, warming character is good throughout the year, and for me, this tea, even with its summer feeling and thick, smooth body, can certainly be enjoyed throughout the year. I think I’ll notice the aroma and fragrance more in the spring/ summer and enjoy its gentle warmth and smoothness in the cooler months.
What is it like to make and how easy is it to get a good taste?
Single Serve 250ml:
I tried a few variations on the recipe for this tea, trying to find the right balance of high aromas, black tea depth, thickness and a touch of astringency which gives the tea its refreshing bite. Using slightly less leaf than I might for making stronger black teas, here’s the recipe I found worked well:
3.5g per 250ml; 100˚C; 3min infusion – pour out all the liquid once infused.
Who is this tea for?
If you’re a fan of Darjeeling already, here’s an example of everything the summer season has to offer – smoother and thicker than the spring season with abundant fragrance. If you like light black teas without milk, or even dark oolongs, I’d recommend exploring this tea. It’s smoother and more warming than most dark oolongs like Phoenix Honey Orchid and Wuyi Oolong, but offers similarly complex and intriguing aromatic experiences.
Organic Darjeeling Second Flush
With grape sweetness, notes of toasted hay and hops and hints of muscatel, this tea encapsulates the unmistakable character of Darjeeling. A light, highly fragrant and uplifting black tea, perfect for afternoon drinking.