We begin our Himalaya travels in Darjeeling for the First Flush of teas with Joshua and crew to end this leg of the journey in Nepal. The voyage never truly finishes, as Joshua will return to the Himalayas for the 2nd flush harvest.
In March of 2019, our buyers embarked on the journey into the Golden Valley of famed Darjeeling teas with our partners at Chamong Tea Group. Our founder Joshua comments on one of his first days at the Tumsong Estate, “Darjeeling is so magical.” We couldn’t agree more about how special this region is to the world of tea.
Darjeeling tea is a Geographically Indicated product. The World Intellectual Property Organization defines a GI by: “a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to origin… Since the quality depends on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between product and this original place of production.”
The Tumsong Estate in Golden Valley has quite a few genetic varieties growing, but not necessarily as vast compared to other regions. The concept to note are the numerous microclimate ranges—a great illustration of terroir. Different slope pitches and varying levels of sun exposure in each garden’s divisions allow for every plantation to differ from one another, even though they are in close proximity. The tea trees grow on slopes amongst other crops, such as black cardamom, creating a lovely biodiversity. The terrain is certainly something to experience—the hills are beautiful, and one can sense the intense rays of the sun even through photographs. These teas from Darjeeling allow everyone to experience a true lesson in terroir, even if we cannot visit the estate ourselves.
During the visit to the Golden Valley, the team studied and tasted teas with Mr. Ajay Kichlu, who has 40+ years experience as a taster in the Darjeeling region. They received lessons in tasting Marybong Estate tea from high-elevation China bush cultivars and other hybrids from the Kyel Division to more deeply understand exactly what aromas and tastes one can find in teas of this region. The nuances of terroir in these teas is tremendous and takes many years of development into a high-level taster to gain the ability to sense intricacies, much like one would expect from a master sommelier.
At the Tumsong Estate, the factory manager, Naresh Pareek, is a gifted tea maker. Joshua was a part of each step of the process in making these elevated, aromatic teas and shared with the Rishi team many of the nuances and lessons he learned. The only aspect our buyers cannot share with us are the intoxicating aromatics during processing. The dynamic aromas develop from pleasant grassy to minty, then to florals of lily cassia, exotic fruits, and even touches of wintergreen. During processing, the tea master uses his senses to judge when the oxidation is ripe and ready for drying. He smells and smells—the nose knows.
The eagerly anticipated First Flush harvest in March-April produces teas with a brilliant golden infusion that captures the essence of spring. The teas follow a very similar processing style beginning with harvest, followed by a carefully-monitored indoor wither, gentle rolling, light oxidation, which we see the tea makers judging intimately, and ending with oven baking to finalize the drying process.
A note from Joshua in the Tumsong processing rooms: “In the early morning during processing, the fresh leaves are withered and appear wrinkled and supple for rolling. If fresh leaves were used before withering, they would break and tear. The withered leaves are softer, a bit sticky, and more pliable. The raw, grassy water aroma has dissipated from the leaf and the withering room smells of orchids and apples.”
Each lot is very unique, and we have 3 lots of the same cultivar from different gardens, and two other hybrids from separate gardens. Our Tumsong and Lingia teas are from the Golden Valley, while the Chamong teas are from gardens to the south in the Rongbong Valley next to Selimbong. Our Shree Dwarika selection is from a garden just north of Golden Valley, on the Nepal border.
The Darjeeling First Flush Chamong EX2 is an AV2 clonal, grown at 1450 meters, and tastes like a ripe, Georgia peach. Also an AV2 clonal, the Darjeeling First Flush Dwarika gives flavors of orange blossom, Buddha’s hand, and magnolia and is found at a much lower elevation of 900 meters. The last tea of this cultivar, Darjeeling First Flush Tumsong EX1, is the highest grown of our Darjeeling teas at 1500 meters and is fruity and floral with notes of lily of the valley, lychee, and hyacinth.
The final two teas are both China cultivars and grown at very similar elevations. Both are quite floral and sweet, but one can note the difference in zest between the two. The Darjeeling First Flush Tumsong EX2 is found at 1200 meters and has hints of delicate floral notes, lilac, orchid, and Muscat grape. The other China variety is the Darjeeling First Flush Lingia EX1A, gives us rose, lemon zest, and stargazer lily, and is grown 50 meters higher.
We hope you enjoy the extraordinary flavors and nuances found in the renowned teas from this prized region in Darjeeling, India.