Saturday, February 26, 2011

Economics of Darjeeling Tea and A Tasting of 2010 Castleton Estate FTGFOP 2nd Flush

The price of Darjeeling tea continues to rise from year to year. This price increase is due to a variety of causes some of which include erratic whether conditions (which include both rain when dry weather is needed and dry weather when rain is needed), increased popularity (increases in not only traditional markets such as Europe but also in China, Korea, and Japan), and political uncertainty (the ramping up of tensions amonst the Gorkha minority in their presuit of an independent state which includes all of the Darjeeling tea growing region). The result effected this years 2010 production which was one of the lowest in history. The second flush, the topic of todays post wasn't exempt from these effects.

On a day that is particularly cold, economics, production, and politics are put aside and the only thing on ones mind is a tea that can warm. Spring which pushed in early was given one last nudge as winter has griped the island over the last week. A local said that this is the normal progression of Spring here on the island, there is usually one last Wintery blast somewhere mid-Febuary. This is natures way of change, a bit of a struggle between Winter and Spring before spring pulls steadily ahead. Teas that ground in balance such as Korean yellows, aged oolong, or Henan Black tea won't do the trick on this blustery cold day. A hardy Darjeeling second flush seems like the perfect remedy for the cold that has gripped the land.

The second flush that one goes for is from Castleton Estate, a rather generous sample was gifted from Lochan Teas with a purchase a few months back. Watching squirrels play on snow covered branches outside, one scoops out some dry leaf from the bag and takes in the sensory experience...

Bringing the scoop full of dark brown, red-tinged leaves close to have a sniff, high juicy fruit notes are predominant even before the scoop nears the nose. These fruity notes are so apparent that they dominate the odour of the dry leaves with just a suggestion of deeper notes underneath.

The water boils, the pots and cups are warmed, the leaf is placed in the pot. The first steeping commences.

The taste that results is sweet pears and oranges and very slight grape right up front. They evolve into deeper notes slowly but are then propped up again. These fruity notes fade into slight chalky coco that lingers for a while on the breath. The mouthfeel is thick and pasty resulting in a nice feel throughout the mouth. Even the lips are slightly puckering and sticky. This sensation is left in the mouth a long time after imparting a pleasant aftertaste.

The chaqi is warming, the whole body lights up with a cozy warmth. This chaqi is not at all harsh and even induces a clear mind. The chaqi is quite warming and doesn't discriminate between limbs or body sections resulting in a very satisfying warm comfort on this Winter day.

The second infusion is light, sweet, with slight licorice and florals presented first before melding into a tangy, bitter, orange-like sweetness. The aftertaste slowly comes on and has a soft orange-raisin flavour to it. Even some soft coco is detected. Once again, it lingers on for quite a while. The mouthfeel remains thick and pleasant, the chaqi warm, soothing, and strong.

The third infusion is once again light and fruity with slight licorice tastes but is lighter, fresher, and more cheery with less depth than last infusion. A slight coco returns in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel covers the full mouth but its thickness is diminished. Its chaqi continues to warm.

The fourth infusion is prepared and a light, cheery, fruity broth with thin faint coco is still found. These tastes later turn into a fresh honey fruit which stays in the mouth. Things have weakened but there is still enough to enjoy.

One prepares this tea with a faded white early blooming azalea that jumped spring too early, was picked to early, and now clings to faded white blossoms. It has lost the ability to develop the bright pink pigments of spring. One reflects deeply from the lessons learned from nature, calm and comforted by the warmth of this tea.



Ho Go said...

Here in Rajasthan, enjoying a cup of 2nd flush Darjeeling tea from a tea shop in Delhi. No mention of the garden but they do say 'organic'.

It's no surprise that Darjeelings may have gone up in price as you mention the small production. But, curiously enough, if you purchase teas in Darjeeling, the prices can be quite a bit lower than online. And, if you find a particular tea you love, a kg can be quite economical. IMO, Darjeelings are still the highest quality teas for the money. Most are organic now. They remain an integral part of my tea drinking repertoire. Here's to ya!

Rich said...

That sounds like quite a satisfying cup of tea. The beauty of your teaware continues to inspire me to expand my collection.


Matt said...

Ho Go,

Darjeeling tea is some of the best in the world, hands down. But unlike other types of tea, its stamina is poor and can only be steeped a handful of times before loosing its essence. If you look at the cost per dry leaf it is a very good price for its quality. On the other hand if you look at the cost per cup, and compare it to say a nice puerh, which can be infused many, many times, it no longer seems so economical.

Most of the online shops will offer you a significant discount if you order 1 KG. Doing this once a year is a good way to keep costs down. Going to the source, as you mentioned is even better!

Watch out for those camels!


The tea and cup are equally satisfying!


DarjeelingTeaXpress said...

Enjoyed your post and glad to know that you read our blog. As you rightly mentioned, Darjeeling tea prices have been going up for a number of reasons but its also because demand outstrips supply (especially of quality teas). Someone mentioned that darjeeling tea purchased in darjeeling can be economical - quite rightly as its purchased at source. But as always, its very important to identity the quality of darjeeling tea, packaging plays a even more important role (DarjeelingTeaXpress always vacuum packs) for the freshness to stay fresh for long.

Matt said...


Stumbled upon your blog when looking for a reliable source to cite regarding the 2010 crop. Very informative. It is mentioned that "increased popularity" (demand) is also due to the price increase in the body of this post.

Your mention of packaging is an important consideration. If you do buy 1 KG of tea, how do you keep it fresh? One usually divides it into a few smaller packages and seals them, only opening one at a time (and usually gifting some as well). Vacuum packaging is even better.

Or perhaps freshness isn't as big a deal as we make it. Like Marshal'N noted, maybe second flush is just as good with a few years of age under its belt! See Here:


Ho Go said...


Brewing Darjeelings gong fu style might not be the best way to either enjoy them or get the value out of them. No problem with gongfu brewing, but, I find western style brewing yields a couple of 6-8oz cups of delicious tea if made correctly with very little leaf being used. As you know, in Darj, it's 1tsp to 1cup and 1 for the pot. This yields 2 very worthwhile brews to my taste, giving full flavor body and many nuances.

As Marshall has said, aging gives very nice results. Freshness doesn't mean better tea. People should experiment with storing their Darjeelings and seeing what they can yield over time. Probably better not to compare apples with oranges in the case of Darjeelings. They are unique just like Puerhs. Namaste.

Matt said...


You may be right about gong fu preparation and Darjeeling tea. This was the way they drink it in Asia and just haven't quite gotten used to the other way. Occasionally one will grampa brew this stuff.

When you prepare it in gong fu you only really get one (sometimes two) good infusions while the others are more the rise and fall of this infusion. At the very least you get a good picture of what the tea is made of!


Anonymous said...

well, there is more to Darjeeling than just how it tastes

Matt said...


Thanks for educating us about those who pick the tea we drink.