Darjeeling tea was not known in the 1850’s, when tea planting first began in the area. A lot of hard work took place through the 1900’s, when 89 gardens were running at full steam. Robert Fortune and Dr. Campbell are contenders in this discovery – one forgotten and another fully credited. Personally, I credit Robert Fortune, who brought the planting material from China. Today what we have – Darjeeling Tea – is Chinese tea going back to China.
The tea was little known in China until 2004, when we first brought it in. In 2013 – just little less than ten years from its introduction – everybody knows Darjeeling. Taking the lesson of shorter shelf life of green teas, British tea traders developed a tea manufacturing process for Darjeeling teas, later known as the black orthodox process. This requires withering, rolling, fermenting or oxidation, firing, and sorting. Much can be written about this, but for today’s post we will consider the quantity produced.
Only 7500 tons of this tea is produced annually. The quality period of first and second flushes – March and May – represents about 25% of the total, or less than 2000 tons. The balance is rain or banjee teas – which are frequently similar to inferior teas of many other regions. This similarity provides opportunity to unscrupulous traders to make money in the short run – at the expense of a bad reputation. The Indian Tea Board is trying their level best to check the corruption by certifying Darjeeling teas with a Certification Trade Mark and registering Darjeeling tea traders into their electronic data system which closely monitors the production, marketing and quality of these teas world-wide. Legal procedures for overseas operations are difficult, but if consequences are effected they are punitive and severe. Unfortunately, the Indian Tea Board has not been able to proceed far in China but studies are underway.
It was a coincidence that I first called Darjeeling “Xi fang mei ren,” compared to “Dong fang mei ren” of Taiwan. It evoked laughter in the office of the Taiwan Tea Corporation in Taipei when we took an Indian tea delegation led by the Indian Tea Board Chairman. Therefore I became motivated to call this tea by its new name. Last October Xiao Juan coined this new name in China when we had the august gathering of senior tea people in Beijing over a tea testing session in her office in Dongli tea house.
Last said, but not least, this tea is the queen of teas. An iced version – which is unusual in China – will be immensely popular in hot Beijing summer so we are going to serve it iced from our Indian booth this year. Please come to enjoy this.
Featured image courtesy of Natara at freedigitalphotos.net/