Grading Code: FTGFOP1s = Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. This is top grade tea and this particular sample, from tleafT, is organic. So that’s a double positive!
I lodge in a narrow corridor of India within the district of Darjeeling. Memory of my arduous journey is censured by this awe inspiring landscape ever rising over me; upon destination the long journey matters least. Snow white shawls cling about the head and shoulders’ of the Himalaya. Posies of rhododendron flowers, some white, some apricot are strewn across a verdant forest. Colourful azaleas and orchids grow wild on steep forested hills and all is set against a blue, lambent sky. I might lean out of my window to touch …
In my imagination! Although, certainly, I would love to visit Makaibari Tea Estate within the Darjeeling district – if only it were not so far away, requiring of a dozen flights, or with a road at the end that sounds like the ‘Skipper’s’ in Otago – only taller and without the New Zealand Search and Rescue service. Besides, Darjeeling can come to me.
Darjeeling is thought the Champagne of black tea. It is unique; no other tea is grown under the combination of conditions that the Darjeeling shrubs must endure. Darjeeling is cinched between Nepal and Bhutan in the foothills of the Himalaya at elevation 7,000 ft. During long, cold winter months at this altitude the tea bushes hibernate. The first flush (a tip and two leaves) is plucked in spring, the flavour is characteristically astringent, fresh rather than smooth. Summer in Darjeeling begins cool but by late summer the monsoon rains arrive. The second flush is popular as the muscatel/raisin flavour intensifies over the season.
Many estates now produce organic tea and Makaibari is one now using the bio-dynamic methods of Rudolf Steiner and permaculture to protect the thin soils.
“My goodness!” remarked the director from the Tea Board of India, “You grow tea on rocks!”
The Makaibari estate’s website will make you want to wake up in Darjeeling in the spring. Darjeeling offers eco-tourism and village home stay accommodation as well as opportunities to volunteer in the gardens. If I leave right now I might just catch the second flush.
How to taste:
Professional tea tasters stand while tasting.
Infuse 2 grms tea in 1/2 cup of boiling water. Cups should be white poreclain or fine bone china.
Investigate: Colour, aroma, clarity, body, freshness, sharpness, bouquet and fullness.
Note: Tea tasters train for between 4-7 years. An amateur may learn to tell the difference between a good tea and a great tea but a trained tea taster can tell where a tea is grown, at what altitude, the composition of the soil and what the weather was like three weeks before plucking.
Makaibari Darjeeling FTGFOP1s
Appearance of dry leaf: Black/copper leaf, green-gray tips. Aroma: Fragrant, fruity. Raisins. (Definitely not earthy).
Liquor (after water has been added to dry leaf): Golden amber, clear. Aroma: Fruity, fragrant, perfumed.
Taste: Snappy, sharp, clean. Lively. Raisins again.
The flavour of this tea lasts for a long time and is too complex for my sommelier skills but the main thing – this is very good tea. Striking, amazing and quite different to any other tea I have tasted. If taken black Darjeeling improves in flavour as the tea cools until just above tepid. Some believe milk will ruin the flavour. I cannot agree. However I did use less milk than usual when I tried it ‘white’ – just in case.
My Serving suggestions: Suitable for both morning and afternoon tea or as an after-dinner drink for the cure of evening slugglishness or tired conversation. Would be companionable with Camembert, freshest salmon, or later, accompanied by shortbread.
Am I tempted to purchase directly from the estate? No. The shipping cost for a domestic amount costs more than the tea. I think I will let tleafT order in bulk for me.
To avoid pesticides in tea buy tea grown at higher altitudes.