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The Darjeeling Region

Darjeeling tea gets its name from the beautiful area of India where it has been grown for more than 170 years.

Climate

The region of Darjeeling has the perfect combination of a high altitude, cool climate and misty Himalayan weather to produce the world’s finest tea. The harmonious, peaceful and beautiful region is said to be famous for its 6 T’s which are teak, tourism, toy train, trekking, tiger hill and (we think most importantly) tea. The name Darjeeling is said to originate from being known as Dorje-ling, which means “land of the mystic thunderbolt”.

Beauty

Darjeeling is located in the stunning Indian State of West Bengal, and forms part of the Mahabharat Mountain Range. This area is 6,000 feet above sea level, as it’s so high in this serene location the air is thin, and this is thought to be one of the reasons for the delicate and sublime taste of the tea produced. Known as ‘Queen of the Hills’, the majestic Mount Kanchenjunga - the world’s third highest mountain - towers over the Darjeeling area and adds to the picturesque and beautiful feel that epitomises the town. Another beautiful feature of the Darjeeling region is Tiger Hill, where tourists and locals gather at sunrise and sunset in order to witness an incredible panoramic view of Mount Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest. One to definitely add to your bucket list!

Majesty

Many interesting artefacts of the past British colonial rule of India can be found in the Darjeeling region. The most famous of them all are the beautiful Darjeeling Railway, British-style public schools and the bungalows that once housed affluent British Army officers during colonial times. As well as its beautiful mountains and historical artefacts, there is some quite remarkable wildlife around the Darjeeling region, with locals reporting the rare sightings of red pandas and snow leopards, in addition to more common animals such as mongooses, badgers and civets. Flowers flourishing in the region include orchids and rhododendrons, whilst rolling green hills and large pine trees also exemplify the stunning location.

The Six T's

  • Tea

    Tea

    Creating this delicate and delightful tea engages around half of Darjeeling’s local people.

  • Trekking

    Trekking

    Darjeeling's stunning scenery and rolling hills make it a trekker’s paradise.

  • Tourism

    Tourism

    Darjeeling is a top spot for tea tourists, as well as for lovers of mountain scenery.

  • Tiger Hill

    Tiger Hill

    An astonishing place to witness sunrises over Mt. Everest and Mt. Kanchenjunga.

  • Teak

    Teak

    This tropical hardwood tree is another mainstay of Darjeeling's economy.

  • Toy Train

    Toy Train

    The railway adds even more beauty and romance to this most wonderful of locations.

Darjeeling Railway

Darjeeling is also home to the famous Darjeeling railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an amazing way to experience the stunning region. The railway was the first - and remains the most gorgeous - example of a hill passenger railway, built in order to create transport links in the beautiful and mountainous region. The railway - often known as the Toy Train for its narrow gauge -remains fully operational as it snakes its way through the stunning Himalayan location, reaching a height of 7,407 feet before descending for four miles to reach the picturesque Darjeeling Station. With a historical and cultural importance, the railway adds even more beauty and romance to this wonderful location. This is a must do if you are heading to Darjeeling!

Tea Status

Darjeeling is home to 78 wonderfully different tea estates, covering an area of 17,500 hectares and providing jobs to many of the regions local people. To produce Darjeeling tea, these estates have been given special status by the Tea Board of India, meaning that the quality of Darjeeling tea is always guaranteed. The tea-growing techniques of Darjeeling have remained largely unchanged since tea was first produced there in 1845. In this time period, Darjeeling has expanded from a small hamlet to a thriving town and tourist hotspot due to its most famous export.

Religion

Darjeeling has a diverse ethnic and religious mix, due to its history of colonial rule, as well as the migration of people to the town from the surrounding areas. The majority of people in Darjeeling are either Hindu, Buddhist or Christian and the region is packed full of beautiful Buddhist monasteries. With regards to ethnic origin, most people are Gorkhas of an ethnic Nepali background, but there are also people from a variety of indigenous ethnic groups calling the region their home. The people of Darjeeling commonly speak in either Nepali, Hindi, Bengali or English.

Tourism

The serene and beautiful nature of a tea-growing way of life has meant that people from around the world now travel to Darjeeling to get back to nature and experience the peaceful life of a tea-grower, this is known as ‘tea tourism’. People who take part typically stay in bungalows which were originally built for British tea planters during the colonial times and assist in tea harvesting around the tea estate.

Heritage

Darjeeling’s tea heritage has meant that the people of the region benefit greatly from the trade and tourism which comes from its worshipped export. Locals of the town enjoy a steady income, as well as housing, allowances and incentives from their work. In addition, tea-growers’ families benefit from improved medical and educational facilities in the region. The importance of tea to Darjeeling is evidenced by the fact that around 50 per cent of people in this mountain paradise include tea in their lives, whether it’s at the growing, picking, production or distribution level.

History of Darjeeling Tea

Darjeeling Tea has an incredibly rich history, which links various cultures and regions together. In a lot of senses, the tea can be linked to British Imperialism, as it was first planted by a British Surgeon, Dr A. Campbell. He grew the tea - as an experiment - at an altitude of 700 feet during the British rule of India. The tea that Dr Campbell planted was in fact not native to India, instead a traditional, small-leafed Chinese species of tea called Camellia Sinensis. The leaf already supplied a large variety of black, white, green and oolong teas, but was given a new lease of life when exposed to the very particular conditions of the Darjeeling region.

History of Darjeeling Tea

After Dr. Campbell’s experiment showed promise, an experimental nursery was set up by the British Government in 1845, as well as a further nursery in Lebong in 1847. Due to the incredible and unique flavour of the tea, many more nurseries and plantations established themselves quickly in the region, and a reputation developed around the tea, especially around the first flush, or first invoice (from early in the picking season) which became known as the ‘exquisite banquet’.

Although initiated by British rule, Darjeeling tea has always been looked after by local people, for whom it has become an invaluable livelihood. When the tea was first planted, Darjeeling was little more than a small hamlet, which was used as a resort by British soldiers and affluent citizens. The tea industry brought the region’s locals, as well as some across the border in Nepal, a valuable source of revenue and brought the area worldwide fame.

Darjeeling is an incredibly special tea because it is produced exclusively in the Darjeeling region, where conditions are uniquely perfect for the production of fine tea. The fact that Darjeeling is one of a kind in its incredible taste, as well as in its specific location of origin. Darjeeling is held in the same reverence in the tea world as champagne is to a wine connoisseur.

Why Grow Tea in Darjeeling?

Darjeeling tea gets its sumptuous flavour and unparalleled depth of taste due to the unique geographical features of the area where it’s grown. Darjeeling tea is produced at an altitude of between 2000 and 6500 feet. A high altitude means that tea leaves grow more slowly, and therefore have more time to develop complex flavours before they are picked. Around 50 to 60 inches of rain falls in Darjeeling every year, the soil in the region is fertile and sloped, both creating the perfect tea growing conditions.

Authenticity

Due to the delicious taste of Darjeeling tea, a separate trade established itself over time by copying the famous blend. These were often unworthy of the prestigious name. This cheaper to produce, lower-quality tea was making it hard for tea connoisseurs to be able to guarantee the quality of leaf they were buying. To respond to this problem, in 1986, the Darjeeling logo was created. This was an important landmark in tea history and ensures that any tea holding the name Darjeeling is produced, tested and packed in accordance with specific procedures to guarantee its quality.

Licensing

In addition to the Darjeeling Logo, in February 2000, a compulsory system was incorporated into the 1953 Tea Act. This was to make it necessary for all dealers in Darjeeling tea to obtain a licence from the Tea Board of India, on the condition that they supply information on the production and manufacture of their tea. Due to this act, any tea labelled as Darjeeling without guaranteeing its quality with correct certification will not be exported from the region.

The Journey of the Darjeeling Leaf

The process of growing tea from plant through its journey to our cup is both complex and unique when it comes to Darjeeling. Communities have developed around the historic tea estates where the tea is grown. The well-being of staff is a consideration in ensuring that high quality tea is produced time and time again. Whole families live on the tea estate so they provide constant care for the tea being grown, and are able to adapt the production process to be ready as soon as the tea is ripe for harvesting.

  1. Plucking

    Across the Darjeeling region, tea is hand-picked by experts to ensure that only the best leaves and shoots are chosen. Tea picking starts early in the morning whilst there is still dew on the plants to ensure the freshest leaves are selected. Traditionally, it is the women of the estate that collect the tea in large wicker baskets. They are paid by the weight of the leaves they pick at the end of the working day. In total the 45,000 women who work as tea pluckers will pick about 10,000 tonnes of Darjeeling a year.

  2. Withering

    Withering is the process of drying out the tea, letting the true flavours of the leaf to become prominent. Withering begins immediately after the tea leaf is plucked so the leaves are quickly transported to processing rooms, where the withering can be controlled. This is the start of the oxidation of tea; the longer that it lasts, the stronger the aroma, as the chemical compounds within the tea will have degraded more. It is typical for Darjeeling leaves to be withered for about 16 hours, removing approximately 65% of the moisture within. This long withering process often leads to black Darjeeling tea actually being green in colour.

  3. Rolling

    Once tea leaves are withered they will be much more pliable than when they were first plucked, making them ready for the rolling stage of production. Pressure is applied to the leaves using large, heavy rollers, which will break the leaves open and damage the cells, causing a release of the natural flavours. This process speeds up oxidation of the leaves and will cause them to darken in colour. Rolling occurs in two stages, with the tea sifted in between ensure all leaves are processed. This is one of the many reasons that Darjeeling tea is consistently high quality.

  4. Fermentation

    Fermentation, also known as Oxidation, is the process of adding oxygen to tea leaves to further develop their flavour; a black tea Darjeeling tends to be fully fermented. This is the most delicate and complex stage of production, based upon an expert judgement of when the tea is fully fermented. Experienced tea fermenters must account for temperature, withering process and humidity to ensure that the perfect level of flavour is created. It is in this stage that the classic Darjeeling flavour is ensured, as just a minute or two’s difference in fermentation can have a huge impact upon the final taste of the tea.

  5. Drying

    Once oxidation is complete, the tea leaves are heated slowly to stop oxidation from continuing. This secures the natural flavours in the tea until you are ready to brew a cup of your favourite tea at home. The flavour of tea can be easily altered during the drying process, so only the most trained employees will take charge of this stage. Heating prevents the enzymes in the tea from continuing to decay; ensuring that the tea is delivered to your door is exactly the same as it was when it left the Darjeeling estate.

  6. Twinings

    Once the tea has gone through the whole process from picking to drying it is then sent to Twinings HQ to be tried and tested. The normal routine is for a small sample to be sent to our Master Blenders for them to try. When they are happy with the Darjeeling the instruction for the rest of the batch to be flown over is given. Once all the tea has arrived it is tested once more. When the Master Blenders feel everything is perfect it is then packed up and ready for you to buy.

Taste of Darjeeling

The taste of Darjeeling is ultimately what has given it its unrivalled reputation for quality worldwide. The most celebrated Darjeeling tea either comes from the first or second flush; both flushes are as wonderful as each other but hold different tastes.

The tea which is harvested in spring - when the leaves are small - hold a light and floral flavour and those plucked in the second flush hold a strong and bold taste.

There are only three to four months when tea is not picked in the Darjeeling region, so the harvesting season can produce a whole range of differently flavoured delicacies.

The different processing methods involved can also affect the flavour of the tea, which are changed depending on the tea being made. Various different blends can be produced from the Darjeeling region including oolong, black, white and green tea. Despite this, the Darjeeling tea has stood out and has earned the reputation worldwide for its luxurious and delicate taste.

The taste most commonly associated with Darjeeling tea is that of ‘muscatel’, a grape that is commonly used in wine production. The liquor of Darjeeling tea is a golden, bright colour, whilst the flavour is bright and aromatic, with notes of warm spice. Darjeeling teas also feature fresh citrusy, fruity notes.

Flushes of Darjeeling

The entire production of tea is split into the four basic seasons of its harvesting known as the four flushes. The taste of the tea is greatly influenced by which flush it is harvested in.

Spring/First Flush
Beginning March to end April
Second Flush
Beginning of May to end June
Monsoon Flush
Mid July to end August
Autumn Flush
Early October to end November
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec

First Flush

It is said that the first flush of Darjeeling tastes just like the mountains that it comes from, with a light floral taste and a freshness to it that can only be attributed to the clean mountain air that surrounds it. First flush tea is sweet and floral, but with an astringency too, giving it a complexity which is unique to tea of this region.

The first flush is the most exclusive of the year, as it harvests the most delicate and delicious leaves. These new, small leaves are picked in groups of two leaves and a bud. The Darjeeling first flush is particularly special due to the climate of the region it is grown in. For some tea estates it will be the only flush they are able to harvest all year, as storms that encompass the entire region in late April can waterlog and damage the land. This damage means that many tea plants will return to their dormant state instead of continuing to grow. The look of first flush Darjeeling is similar to green tea and far less dark than most black teas, whilst the liquor - when brewed with water - is an almost clear, golden colour.

Second Flush

Second flush Darjeeling is harvested between beginning of May and end of June. This tea is more of a purplish brown appearance and has a more robust colour and taste, with a more pronounced ‘muscatel’ flavour. Again, this blend is fruity and floral, but with less subtlety than a first flush tea, meaning it is generally less expensive and less in-demand worldwide. However, second flush tea functions better as an energy boost or pick-me-up than the delicately flavoured first flush Darjeeling, due to its more robust flavour. It is well-loved in Japan and the US and as a result they are some of the largest importers of second flush tea, whilst the British market tends to prefer the first flush.

The period between the second and third flushes is an incredibly rainy one in Darjeeling and tea production almost halts for this time, with any tea which is produced being sold cheaply to make blends with other teas. Third flush Darjeeling is made later in the year, around mid-July until the end of August. The final, autumn flush has traditionally not been held in the reverence that the first and second flushes have, due to its darker, bolder taste however, the autumn Darjeeling is very special in its own right and we believe is something to be treasured. Definitely watch out for Darjeeling Autumn 15.

Improving the Lives of India's Rural Communities

The production of Darjeeling Tea is the centre of many communities in the region; nearly all employment comes from the tea industry, with the estates being not only the home to the workers but also to their families. The majority of tea estates have their own schools, hospitals and shop, so many families rarely leave the estate, especially due to the time intensive production of the tea. Twinings supported Mercy Corps three year project to improve water and sanitation in India’s rural communities to have a life-changing impact upon the people living there.

The Twinings Darjeeling Water & Sanitation Project has benefited over 4,850 people since it began in December 2010, improving the health of those involved in tea production significantly. The main activities of the work undertaken as part of this project consisted of:

  • Creating 7 new water systems to filter and distribute water, reaching 958 people
  • Construction of 218 sanitary latrines
  • Improving the main 8 catchment areas in Dabaipani cluster
  • Creating and supporting water and sanitation committees across the region, in order to maintain the water systems for future generations
  • Promoting behavioural change through awareness of health and hygiene practices
  • Encouraging school hygiene promotion in 4 schools in Dabaipani

Before the work of Twinings and Mercy Corps, local communities were forced to collect water from nearby springs throughout the day, walking between 30 minutes and an hour each day in order to supply their family. The time taken to collect this water was drastically impacting upon young girls’ education, as well as their health. Without clean water the health and well-being of these families has been in jeopardy for too long, so the actions of the project aimed to decrease the levels of waterborne diseases in the area by at least 50%. By increasing knowledge in the area of the problems of contaminated water, it also built the foundations for sustainable growth and further developments to ensure continual improvement to the lives of the people producing Darjeeling.

Waterborne diseases were reduced by 66% in the main tea communities, and clean water availability increased by 193%, which has meant that overall the amount of absenteeism at work has been reduced by 73%. This shows more families able to continue working, earning and improving their quality of life as a result of the project undertaken by Twinings and Mercy Corps.

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