It was a dripping-fresh monsoon morning of July when we reached the pristine town of Darjeeling, to explore this evergreen fantasy of Darjeeling tea. For a quick coverage, as I have just a day to be awed & explore the Darjeeling tea estates, I skipped my breakfast & compensated it with a brewing cup of Darjeeling tea without milk. Darjeeling tea is normally cultivated from the small-leaved Chinese variety of Camellia sinensis rather than the large-leaved Assam plant, so in case of Darjeeling tea the flavour is best felt during brewing. The tea taster will tell you that the infused leaf has a distinctive fragrance and the tea liquor has a light golden colour. Traditionally, that’s the reason why the iconic Darjeeling tea is prepared as black tea (without milk). Spraying of pesticides or manure is avoided in the plantations during midday on a sunny day and during the monsoon season, when it rains heavily. Instead, the tea plants are left with a natural exposure to the rain water and no chemicals. That’s how the concept of Darjeeling oolong and green teas started gaining momentum.
Now, the question over here is how is oolong tea & green tea separate from regular Darjeeling teas? Usually, these teas are more commonly produced & easier to find. They require comparatively heavy rainfall but do not require any extra care in terms of manure, etc. The expertise of green tea, however, lies in plucking. So during the afternoon, when the bright sun is out, I could see plucking being carried out very sensitively. After the enactment of Geographical Indications of Goods in 2003, Darjeeling tea became the first Indian product to receive a patent tag and within a span of a decade, a certain vibrancy is visible to actively explore various types of tea cultivation in this region. So, apart from oolong tea and green tea, vigorous efforts are going on in gardens like Makaibari, to make white tea. It was post-lunch when I visited the amazing Makaibari tea garden and was astonished to see the tipping of tea bushes being carried out for white tea.
Since red spiders spread like an epidemic and are extremely troublesome to manage, monsoon is a period of jubilance for organic tea growers like Makaibari as rain water washes away the spiders, leaving the leaves green instead of red. In the outskirts of Darjeeling, there are oodles of tea nurseries at the Sadar Subdivision and as the rain showers take a short break, the time is ripe for a pleasant evening walk.
The entire region has an oriental feel to it and reminded me of Champagne region of France and I profess that the ultimate climax of this wonderful day was to be rejuvenated by a cup of green tea with ginger that helps you forget the day’s stress. To taste second flush (first flush is during spring-rain) tea during a thunderous monsoon evening, is thrilling as its harvested in June and produces an amber coloured, full bodied, muscatel flavoured cup. Then there’s the unique monsoon or rains tea, which is harvested in the monsoon between second flush and the autumn season. This tea is less withered, consequently more oxidised, and usually sold at lower prices. It is rarely exported and is traditionally served in tea parlours in the metros as masala chai.