What makes Darjeeling tea so special?

Darjeeling is one of the most famous names in the global tea industry. Grown only in a small area of West Bengal, in India, it is utterly distinctive in aroma and flavor. It has certainly earned its nickname as “the Champagne of Teas” and growers are continuously working to further improve the quality of its leaves. Just how has it managed to become so sought after among tea drinkers?

What makes Darjeeling tea a popular specialty tea?

1. It is only grown in one area

The Camellia Sinensis shrub that is the source of most tea leaves has its origins in China, but Darjeeling was grown for the first time in West Bengal. Today, the Tea Board of India has strict standards for certifying any tea as authentic Darjeeling and that includes that it comes from West Bengal’s Darjeeling or Kalimpong districts. This means there will only ever be a limited number of producers.

2. It can be used for black, green, white or oolong tea

Traditionally, Darjeeling is a black tea, but the beauty of Camellia Sinensis is that by changing growing, harvesting and processing procedures, it can also be turned into other types of tea, such as green, white and oolong. In recent years, producers have been making extra efforts to diversify their Darjeeling tea so that it can be sold in different forms.

3. It has a complex flavor and aroma unlike any other tea

People who drink Darjeeling describe it as quite fruity, without the bitterness that often accompanies other black teas. Instead, it is sweet, though with some earthy notes. It also has a distinct floral scent to go with its golden color (this can range from yellow to orange to brown).

4. Different flushes produce different flavors

It may be distinctively fruity but the flavor of Darjeeling does depend a little upon when it is harvested. There are between three and five so-called “flushes” through the year, each of which produces a different quality of leaf. The first flush, when it has just awoken from winter dormancy, creates the lightest and most floral tea, sometimes used in white tea. The second flush is amber in color and produces the unique “muscatel” sweet spiciness. Third flush and monsoon flush Darjeeling have less flavor, are lower in price and are more likely to be blended with other leaves to create specialty tea.

5. It may have health benefits

Many people drink tea for its anecdotal health benefits, although the scientific evidence doesn’t always support the claims. There has been research into many potentially beneficial compounds in Darjeeling, including polyphenols, flavonoids and antioxidants. It may support various parts of the body, from the heart to the brain. It is caffeinated, so has all the associated advantages and disadvantages of caffeine. You may also experience improvements in your mood after drinking it.

There is nothing random about the impressive reputation and enduring popularity of Darjeeling tea. No other tea has its distinctive history, growing patterns, aroma or flavor, even before we consider the potential health benefits. It seems likely that people will continue to drink Darjeeling tea, both on its own and as part of other blends, for the foreseeable future, perhaps even experimenting further.