I don’t think I ever really understood what set Darjeeling apart from other Indian Blacks until just recently. Thanks to Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler, a book I’m currently reading, I’ve come to a better understanding of why geographically and historically Darjeeling is considered to be superior to other Black teas. But in reality, the mutually held opinion of superiority is just that and the concept of what makes it the best is just theory. I’ve never been one to regurgitate platitudes, and tea is no exception. I want hard evidence (which would require flying all over the world and decades of work), but I know i won’t get it. The best I can hope for in the short term is to sample and review a LOT of different Darjeeling teas and see if i draw the same conclusions history has. Thus, I give you A Parting Gift’s Darjeeling Week 2015.
Darjeeling is best known for its Single Estate teas. Single Estate refers to a tea garden held by a single family (or later company), where growing, plucking, manufacturing, etc. secrets are passed down from one generation of Planters to the next, many over the course of the last 160 years. Darjeeling has 78 Single Estate gardens, most of which I’ve never heard of it. Here’s a list of Darjeeling Estates I am at least vaguely familiar with (I’ve *ed the teas I’ve actually had). How many can you name? Any of the ones I’ve omitted?
- Happy Valley
- Kaley Valley
- Margaret’s Hope*
- Mission Hill
- Puttabong (Tukvar)
- Teesta Valley
- Upper Fagu
- Vah (North) Tukvar
So, twelve out of 78 isn’t a terrific sample size, but specific Darjeeling Estate teas simply aren’t available in the West without investing enormous funds (eg. buying at auction). Steven Smith, who grew and eventually sold off both Stash Tea and Tazo (to Starbucks no less!) is a genius at handpicking some of the best Darjeeling to resell for his third company, Steven Smith Teamaker. In a way though, he’s kind of an ass in that he won’t tell you which Estate this or that Darjeeling derives from (trade secrets, ahoy!). That practice may as well be industry standard; it’s a good deal more rare to encounter resold tea that will actually point you to a specific Estate. The reality is, you and I have tasted tea from many more than twelve Darjeeling Estates, and we’ll just never know which. In this way, the chances that I myself will ever be able to tell one Darjeeling Estate’s tea from another in a blind test… aren’t good. xD
Sadly, it turns out I didn’t wait long enough to review all Second Flush teas, so what I have is mostly First Flush with a bit of Second Flush from last year. *shrugs* Maybe i’ll repeat this experiment in the Fall (or next Fall) and see if i notice a difference? The really cool part is: you can actually tell First Flush and Second Flush Darjeeling apart by the color of the liquor. Second Flush Darjeeling usually has a more reddish tinge owing to the monsoon dumping 40~ inches of rain/month on the plant.
There’s an old joke that FTGFOP (fine-tippy-golden-flowering-orange-pekoe) actually stands for “Far Too Good For Ordinary People”, and Margaret’s Hope FTGFOP Tippy seems to enshrine that idea quite nicely. ;) Easily one of the most stellar smelling teas I’ve ever brewed, Margaret’s Hope FTGFOP Tippy has a lush fragrant tangerine aroma that’s both a bit woody and a bit green. A similar level of “holy crap… this is something special” is present in the very first sip. Both extremely complex in texture (gritty but with a more veiny essence) and taste (a delightful (tiny bit smokey) mikan that fizzles on the tongue), When i roll the tea on my tongue, it really does give me the sense that this tea grove and manufacturing technique is 150 years in the making. Margaret’s Hope FTGFOP Tippy is a bit tippy, as advertised, but its other qualities steamroll over it to where you’d barely notice unless you’re looking for it. Additionally, Margaret’s Hope FTGFOP Tippy seems to have the perfect level of caffeine (just enough to perk you up a bit) and a roundly brilliant orange-tinged yellow liquor that I can’t even come up with an analogy for. Margaret’s Hope FTGFOP Tippy really does kind of set the bar for what Black tea ought to be.
So far, from my box of 40+ Upton tea samples, Margaret’s Hope FTGFOP Tippy is the first where I want to immediately rebrew the rest and have a second cup. In a word, Margaret’s Hope is stupendous.
- Aroma – 98
- Taste – 92
- Texture – 94
- Spunk – 96
- Price – 97 (a $7 one ounce sample ^^;;)
- Availability – 93
- Appearance – 95
Mean score – 95%! Even if you hate Black tea, I think you’ll enjoy something about Margaret’s Hope FTGFOP Tippy.