Darjeeling First Flush
Tea Crop 2021 – Part Two
In the next instalment of our new blog series, we provide an update
on this year’s eagerly anticipated crop as well as insights into the art of picking tea
Following last week’s introduction to Darjeeling First Flush Tea, we present our readers with a special behind-the-scenes look at this year’s crop before it lands on UK shores. Our Tea Master Lalith Lenadora also returns to provide fascinating insights into The East India Company’s time-honoured cultivation process.
The alpine garden that Darjeeling First Flush grows in is called the Puttabong Tea Estate, covering 22 rolling kilometres across the Darjeeling – also known as “Queen of the Hills” – region, adjoining Nepal and overlooked by the towering Kanchenjunga mountain. The Puttabong Tea Estate has a long, rich history – it has been home to Darjeeling First Flush since The East India Company pioneers first founded the plantation in 1857. These days, no fewer than 1,636 men and women help to grow, tend to and harvest the tea, using only sustainable methods in line with Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance standards.
Covid protocol before workers go to the field to pluck Darjeeling First Flush
“Darjeeling First Flush grows best and yields well in tea estates which enjoy a warm, humid soil, fertiliser and a climate with a rainfall measuring at least 100 centimetres a year,” says Lenadora. “Ideally, it likes deep, light, acidic and well-drained soil. These conditions help to ensure a good crop.”
As with any crop, he adds, unprecedented weather can cause problems – this is also why the arrival of this particular tea varies slightly each year. The 2021 crop has experienced an unusually warm, sunny climate, meaning that Lenadora and his team were keen to wait for the arrival of some welcome spring rain before pressing ahead with the harvest.
As shown above, the first step is picking the tea leaves themselves, which the Puttabong Estate workers do by hand to ensure that only the bud and the first succulent leaf make the final pick. The next step, as Lenadora explains, is called withering. “As the tea leaves are thick and waxy, they must be softened – or ‘withered’ – to make them pliable enough for crafting. This involves laying leaves out in a trough and left to wilt to remove surface moisture,” he says. After that, the leaves will be rolled and twisted, which helps to break
down their cell walls.
Once break-down occurs, the consequential enzymatic reaction turns the leaves brown in the same way that a cut apple becomes brown. This stage is known as fermentation, or oxidising. Workers then carefully monitor the tea leaves, keeping a close eye on the heat and humidity to ensure optimum fermentation conditions. “Finally,” says Lenadora, “the tea is dried to remove any residual moisture and create a shelf-stable leaf.”
Now that the picking of Darjeeling First Flush 2021 is underway it means it won’t be long until the finished product is shipped and can be enjoyed by fine tea connoisseurs everywhere. While it typically takes more than a month for most tea companies to receive the finished product, the special arrangement between the Darjeeling workers and The East India Company ensure that Darjeeling First Flush arrives within 10-12 days from the time of plucking, exceptionally fresh and ready to drink.
In the third and final edition of our Darjeeling First Flush blog series, Lalith Lenadora will lead a special tasting story on the 2021 crop – be sure not to miss it.
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