Origin: Darjeeling, India
Type: Black Tea
Style: First Flush
Preparation: One teaspoon steeped in about eight ounces of boiling water for three minutes, sipped plain
Darjeeling tea is harvested a few times over the course of a season - first flush, second flush, autumnal flush - and each yield has its own characteristics, its own personality, its own charm and identity, making its own mark on the world of tea and on the palates of tea drinkers. (Che bella!) I have heard that the tea made from the first flush is the lightest, as the leaves are plucked before the full length of the season has given the plant day after day of bountiful nutrients and minerals and other goodies to be imbibed from the soil, eventually yielding an autumnal leaf that makes a richer and stronger (and more bitter) cup of tea. That all makes sense on paper, I suppose, and yet I must say that if the tea that I sipped is the lightest crop of the season, then by the autumnal flush the tea must brew like crude oil.
The dry leaves of this First Harvest Darjeeling (as McNulty's calls it) are medium sized, and all shades of brown. They are rolled, and not quite crumpled so much as gnarled. The bag of tea leaves could easily pass for a bag of tiny twigs. These leaves offer a thick, winy nose, not unlike a tawny port, with fruity undertones, perhaps peach-like.
When brewed, the tea is the color of tawny port, with a rich visual texture like honey. That is appropriate, because the aroma is of honey as well, and somewhat floral - honeysuckle, let's say. When sipped, the tea has a smooth texture, soothing to drink, almost like a tisane. Is it hearty, per se? No, although the question does arise. It is rich yet semi-delicate. Maybe that is what people mean in describing the first flush as "light": delicate to the touch. The flavor is certainly no kind of weak. There are plenty of tannins around the edges, while a vanilla-honey flavor - soft but superabundant - takes center stage. There are hints of peaches and nectarines.
Overall, the cup of this First Harvest Darjeeling is mellow but deep. It seems more like an afternoon tea than a breakfast tea. Sipping it does more to provide a platform for the collected thoughts of a day to play themselves out than to provide a spark to generate the day's events.
I brewed the same leaves a second time, in the same manner, and the result was what one might expect. The color of the tea does not diminish, and the nose, aside from exuding more tannins, is the same. But on the sip it offers a muted, slightly more bitter version of the first cup of tea, with a lighter texture. The finish is tannic.
By the way, half-way through the second cup, the caffeine starts to really hit in. Maybe it can work as a breakfast tea after all!