Legend says winter comes from the hands of Chys Khan, the master of the cold. It is passed from his hands to those of Father Christmas, who is responsible for distributing it throughout the rest of Europe. Both have a white beard, but Chys Khan is wrapped up even warmer. He ‘lives’ in the coldest inhabited region on the planet, in the Sakha Republic, Siberia. Although several towns contend for this honour, the -71.2 °C recorded at Oymyakon back in 1924 place it first on the world thermometer (or last, depending on how you look at it). It is located 750m above sea level, in a valley. This causes the air coming from the mountains to get ‘stuck’ there and make it even colder.
This “stuck” word is parallel to the “trapped” cold winds of high peaks of the Kanchenjunga Himalayas which after getting reflected when hot air coming from Gangetic plains of central India, gives the unique flavour compounds to those Darjeeling teas which are rarest of rare in the world.
A coincidental introduction of Chinery tea bushes in Darjeeling during the 1850s when local Assamese tea bushes were being planted in the plains of Assam made the contrast in quality so evident that to date “China” is suffixed to Darjeeling leaf grades to identify its better flavour and cup. A good summery of this phenomenon was made in a writeup by AC Cargill some time back, and we found that the long-abandoned multi-stammer China bushes has failed to grow high like single stammer Assam trees found in the mountains of Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China. Thick cell sap found in the un-plucked leaves of these China bushes is so extraordinary that Jeff Fuchs could not control himself and shot lot of close-ups and sent Alexey Sebekin to Rungneet to study the potential of this rare 2017 crop which will be harvested soon. A crop that Dan Robertson will be checking soon this coming April for the members of International Tea Cuppers Club and his shows the world over.
Cold is the key to Himalayan teas, be it Darjeeling, Nepal, Kangra or Sikkim. Cultivars play the role and this added with altitude, aspect, location and soil make up the world of Darjeeling flavours.