Darjeeling Tea - Why is it called 'the Champagne of teas’.?



Drinking Tea has almost become  part of culture among people across the world, cutting across religions, languages and customs. It is always nice to have a cursory glance of the latest sensational scoops in the morning newspaper by sipping hot brew in your hand and trading talks  about local politics with your friends or neighbors
Every tea shop  on the side walk in India is a refuge to local workers where they take time off to relax over a cup of hot brew - tea.

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This aromatic beverage  is commonly prepared by pouring hot or boiling water over cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub (bush) native to Asia. You will be surprised to note second to potable water, tea is the  most widely consumed drink in the world. Among the many varieties,  Darjeeling and Chinese greens, have a nice,  slightly bitter, and astringent flavor,  whereas others have different tastes like  sweet, nutty, floral or grassy notes. Originated in Southwest China, tea  was used as a medicinal drink and later it gained popularity  as a social / recreational drink during the Chinese Tang dynasty. The credit goes to Portuguese priests and merchants who  introduced tea to Europe in  the 16th century. As for the English, having set their foot firmly in India in the 17th century, they started  large-scale production and commercialization of the plant in India, particularly in NE India  to challenge the Chinese monopoly. Drinking tea (and later biscuits) became fashionable among Britons; thanks to some British tea companies and their publicity gimmicks. 

As regards tea, it was the Dutch who played  a major role in the early 17th century in the early European tea trade. They sold tea through  the Dutch East India Company. One Richard Wickham, officer with  an East India Company office in Japan, wrote  to a merchant in Macao requesting "the best sort of chaw" (tea) in 1615. This is the first record of tea from an Englishman. Tea, however, was not widely consumed in Britain until the 18th century because it was expensive and only in the later part became affordable. The British enjoyed the brew by adding sugar and milk to black tea and in the 1700s, the popularity of black tea overshot the green tea. Consequently, British Tea companies operating in India  had a lucrative business  during that period. This encouraged them to increase the production  from India. With increased [production of tea from India, the  price of tea in Europe fell steadily during the 19th century. This had a positive results on the society as a whole. Tea was no longer the luxury of the rich and the royals, it became every body's beverage to relax. However, next time when you takeout your fiancee for a cup of tea in a near-by Mall remember the following:
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Tea- drinking became so popular, it indirectly caused some historical events. For example,– the Tea Act of 1773 by the British colonists  provoked the Americans that led a great political event called  the Boston Tea Party that acted as a 'Spring Board' to  the American Revolution.  Because of large-scale tea-smuggling, the issue of British trade deficit became a serious one. To cut down the Chinese monopoly, the British sold opium in China and soon converted majority of them into opium dependent. Through this unethical trade, the British Bobs made a huge bundle, of course, at the cost of Chinese health.  This led to a led the Opium Wars. 

To reduce Chinese domination in tea trade, it was the British who introduced  in India Chinese small leaf type tea in 1836. In 1841, Archibald Campbell did experiment in  the Kumaun region and  in Darjeeling by using Chinese tea seeds.  In 1856 Alubari tea garden was opened in 1856 and Darjeeling tea became available on the market.  In 1848, Robert Fortune of ESI brought Chinese tea plants and introduced them to the Himalayas, He undertook the missions during the lull periods of  Anglo-Chinese First Opium War (1839–1842) and Second Opium War (1856–1860). 

The British had discovered that a different variety of tea native to Assam and the northeast region of India  was used by the local Singpho people.  They grew these plants instead of the Chinese tea plant and then  hybridised with Chinese small leaf type tea as well as likely closely related wild tea species. The new variety gave good results. Assam and Darjeeling tea became popular all over the world. Now India is a major consumer of tea and a major part of production caters to the vast domestic markets.
Darjeeling tea. tea leaves being plucked. Pinterest
Darjeeling tea from the Darjeeling district in West Bengal, India is available in black, green, white and oolong. When properly brewed, it yields nice flavor that can include a tinge of astringent tannic characteristics and a musky spiciness sometimes described as "muscatel". Because of tannic attributes, it is good to take this kind of tea with milk / milk cream. Unlike most Indian teas, Darjeeling tea is normally made from the small-leaved Chinese variety of Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, rather than the large-leaved Assam plant (C. sinensis var. assamica). Darjeeling tea is traditionally made as black tea.
Darjeeling tea. Marketspice

Now Darjeeling tea has become a high premium tea and has retained its popularity among the western nations for more than a century. According to Dhananjaya Bhat, countries, where Darjeeling tea is popular, are willing to pay a decent price for a chest, the reason being it is hard to duplicate this kind of tea either in its nice flavor or its quality.. It means no compromise on its goodness and original flavor.  Avid tea drinkers will always give preference to Darjeeling tea and that is the reason why it is popularly called  'the Champagne of teas’. This promoted some nations to pay any price for this classic tea. 

West Bengal India: Darjeeling tea estate. Tea Perspective
In the recent past, a side of Casyleton's 'muscatel’ fetched a  Rs 13,001 for a kg at the Calcutta Tea Auction, bid by Norin Company of Japan. Considering the prices on the market at that point of time the sum was a big one, no body would have expected this price for a kilo of tea.  The annual production of Darjeeling tea is only  10,000 tonnes, and it is too small quantity for the global market. This ultimate in tea is always in demand and its flavor is a lasting one and makes you happy and cheerful. 

Its history goes back to 1853 when the British acquired Darjeeling hills and adjacent areas from the Sikkim Maharajahs. The moderate climate, hilly terrain and serene country area, the cool view of beautiful Mt Kanchenjunga (2nd tallest peak in the world) and above all suitability to start a sanatorium for the British Soldiers attracted the British very much and they began to develop this area. Around the same time, an enterprising  Englishman by name Dr Archibald, a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service, after assessing the climate, soil and other parameters, began experimenting with Chinese plants in Assam.
Black tea, Darjeeling tea estateYouTube
The cultivation of indigenous tea had already begun in Assam and it encouraged the tea growers. Later  it was positively found out that the Darjeeling variety was  a good bet - the unusual delicate and subtle fragrance made it a winner. The reasons are the high altitude, the suitable  mountain air, the soil, the rainfall and the mist, all combined to give Darjeeling tea a flavor that can be neither matched nor duplicated. Nor can it be resisted. As far as Darjeeling tea plants are   concerned  according to a tea planters "the higher it is grown, the thinner a tea's body and the more concentrated its flavor as a rule. Here, altitude (4000 ft; ca. 1200 m)  is only one factor determining the quality of Darjeeling tea, besides a host of other factors - the soil chemistry, temperature and rainfall unique to the area play secondary role. Further, sunshine also plays its role;  the slope facing the sun may have a a small role in the quality of the tea. You will be in for a surprise when you come to know wind factor also determines the tea flavor. No tea plants resistant to cold wind are found outside Japan and China except Darjeeling and the Caucasus. Indian native tea plants are not as resistant to cold as the Darjeeling tea is. Through out the growing season, tea leaves have to be hand-picked  every four to 8 days round the year. The yield per plant is 100 grams / year, that is four ounces of Darjeeling tea. 

Adulteration and falsification of Darjeeling tea have become a major problem in the global tea trade; as of 2004, the amount of tea sold as Darjeeling worldwide every year exceeds 40,000 tonnes. This will give you some idea about the popularity of this tea and the menace of duplication of original tea. Plans are afoot to replant Darjeeling tea plants  and some are committed to bring back the goodness of Darjeeling tea's unique flavor into the Indian tea industry as well as global tea industry.