DARJEELING FIRST FLUSH 2019

Oxidized tea
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Tead Off
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Thu Apr 11, 2019 12:56 am

I'd like to open a discussion focusing on Darjeeling FF teas..........Any reviews, analysis, vendor suggestions, and notes relating to this year's FF teas.

After visiting Darjeeling almost 10 years ago, the quality of the teas came as a sort of revelation to me. I had never tasted 'black' tea like those that are produced there. The deeper I got into the tasting and nuances of this tea, the more allure it held for me. I had a field day buying teas from many different tea gardens. White teas, 2nd flush, Autumnals, and FF, were all still available in November that year. Surprisingly, there are relatively few online sellers that are based in Darjeeling, although there are many shops where you can buy teas. The shop that is worth mentioning is Darjeeling Tea Corner, a small shop on the Chowrastha which specialized in MIM estate teas and they were also the only shop where you could buy these teas. I don't think they have an online presence. They stood head and shoulders above any other garden I came across, but that is not to say that there are not other shops and vendors selling excellent teas. Teaemporium is also a good vendor buying from most of the more popular gardens, have a brick and mortar shop, and is also online.

At that time, 10 years ago, the prices were very low. I was amazed at how many teas of good quality you could buy for under $10/100g. But the main problem for me right in the beginning of discovering these teas was the difference between FF and 2nd flush, and the vast difference in taste that these two had. Of course, the processing of FF teas is not the same as 2nd flush. The FF teas are very minimally processed, hence the light color of the leaves, the liquor, and the flavor. I never considered them a black tea but trying to find out how they processed these teas was like pulling teeth. I think most of the vendors at that time were just guessing and to this day, some even describe the oxidation process in terms of minutes, not %. The idea that a black tea was 100% oxidized flew out the window relating to Darjeeling teas. Comparing them to Chinese black/red teas is impossible and unfair. So, many have begun to introduce the idea that they are similar to white, green, and light oolongs. To call a Darjeeling tea an oolong, means it is lightly oxidized. But to compare them to Taiwan high mountain (gaoshan) teas is also not fair. The flavor profile is not the same and neither is the terroir where elevation is the only similarity to Darjeeling. For me, Darjeeling teas are unique and different from all other regions. I will leave the qualitative differences alone as they are subjective.

For 10 years, I had so much Darjeeling stock, that I didn't need to buy any more and it has lasted, stored well, for nearly this whole time. They only Darjeeling I have from this time period is a White Tea from Thurbo, still silky smooth in the mouth with deep honey flavor. Some teas from Darjeeling hold up well over the years. Now that FF have started to appear, I decided to buy some again. I was very surprised at what I found.

I bought 2019 Puttabong Organic Moondrops and Balasun Flowery, both FF teas. I was excited but dismayed at how long it took to get the parcel! EMS took nearly 10 days to get out of India to Bangkok. lol. Some things in India never change but this was the worst for me. Nevermind, on to the teas.

Puttabong- first, the shock of the price. OK, things change, cost of living, etc., has driven the prices up considerably. But, what am I getting for this? This is rated as a top tea. It took me some time to set the parameters of brewing this tea, but for all its fussiness about temperature, leaf quantity, and size of vessel, at best it delivered a very mild flavor, soft mouthfeel, and a nice dry cup aroma. The flavor profile was not distinct and left me searching for its character. Trying to up leaf, time, etc., just produces more astringency, not more flavor. I began to remember my initial experience with FF teas and how much I prefer 2nd flush teas that deliver full flavors and aromas that mark Darjeeling tea like no other.

So I moved on to the Balasun, hoping for a fuller experience, but found myself longing once again for the full flavor of 2nd flush teas. I get the feeling that the gardens and vendors are hyping their product to be something extremely rare and desirable. My experience tells me otherwise. I have little desire to keep drinking these teas and will probably put them away to 'mature' for some time. I am reminded of the Japanese shincha experience. The new tea is called shincha, new tea. It is more astringent, brighter, less umami and sweetness than the sencha tea which is the same tea sold 2 months later, given a chance to rest. Even gyokuro is not sold until months after processing. The difference is quite noticeable. I gave up buying shincha long ago. It is just not to my taste. New teas are always going to be more astringent and brighter than rested tea. There are even some tea drinkers that will never touch teas that are not aged. I am not that fanatical, but I think this view can apply to FF Darjeeling teas, they just don't deliver the deliciousness of a good 2nd flush no matter how hard I try to brew them. Buying new teas seem more of a ritual that many tea drinkers engage in and get excited about, like a harvest celebration. But sellers have a different agenda than drinkers. And, I'm sure not everyone will agree with my view. Why should the price of FF be more than 2nd flush?
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Bok
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Thu Apr 11, 2019 2:08 am

First of all – welcome! I assume you are the same as on the old forum? Glad you found your way here!

Interesting topic and thanks for the long write down of your musings and experiences!
Tead Off wrote:
Thu Apr 11, 2019 12:56 am
For me, Darjeeling teas are unique and different from all other regions. I will leave the qualitative differences alone as they are subjective.
We just had another discussion about Darjeeling recently, technicalities were mentioned in regards to classification.
Anyways, I am always reminded of Oriental Beauty on the rare occasions when I had Darjeeling.

Nowadays it is less easy for me to get DJ in Taiwan, used to be easier when living in the West. Price is deterring though, if I compare price/value to local produce.

Reading your article though, I doubt that I ever had as good a DJ as you describe...
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pedant
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Sat Apr 13, 2019 10:29 am

hey @Tead Off, it's nice to see you again. thanks for joining us. :mrgreen:

i also prefer SF to FF. for me, it is the quintessential Dj tea. i fell in love with it when i first started drinking tea and making an effort to buy good tea online, and it might be the tea most responsible for pulling me in. the biggest problem for me has been finding really good Dj tea at any price. i've been disappointed with most of the stuff i've ordered lately. in fact, there's only one lot of SF tea i've tried in the last 5 years that stood out to me as truly excellent: one particular "moonlight" production from Castleton.

the difference between the FF and SF Dj is obviously much greater than shincha vs subsequent sencha harvests. i actually do like FF, but it's almost a completely different tea. as for the price difference, is there much of one? at any rate, i don't think there should be.
Tead Off
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Sun Apr 14, 2019 8:29 am

Pedant,

Where are you buying your DJ teas? This is going to make a difference. If your buying from Darjeeling based online sellers like Thunderbolt, you are going to pay a premium for these teas. Buying in DJ is less expensive than buying online, but of course, not everyone can get to DJ. I've noticed some of the US sellers are less expensive for the same teas. And, Europe is probably more expensive than anywhere.

Whatever is happening in DJ, I feel they are going in the wrong direction with their FF teas. Picked too early and trying to milk the harvests for maximum return while sacrificing quality. Nepali teas are still in their infancy and many are very good values. If you are like me and tire of drinking Chinese red/black teas, DJ/Himalayan teas offer a completely different flavor and aroma profile that no Chinese or Japanese blacks can match. I'm not a fan of that cloying malty sweetness that is prevalent in Chinese blacks.
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pedant
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Sun Apr 14, 2019 9:27 am

i've had the most luck with thunderbolt but have gotten some mediocre teas from him as well. i won't mention others i've tried because i don't have positive things to say, and it's also been a long time.

what do you think are the best online vendors in terms of quality?
and what about for nepali teas?
Tead Off
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Mon Apr 15, 2019 6:06 am

pedant wrote:
Sun Apr 14, 2019 9:27 am
i've had the most luck with thunderbolt but have gotten some mediocre teas from him as well. i won't mention others i've tried because i don't have positive things to say, and it's also been a long time.

what do you think are the best online vendors in terms of quality?
and what about for nepali teas?
I will avoid all DJ online sellers as their prices are too high. You can buy cheaper in the States. I will try Udyan Tea, next. They are at the base of the mountains that go up to DJ. Do you know any other sellers in India that you would recommend for DJ and Nepali teas?

BTW, I think it is not possible to judge the quality of the tea by the invoice numbers. DJ gardens are picking a lot of the tea too early and processing quickly for a longer season. Many of the later invoices will have teas that have had a chance to mature and develop their flavor profiles. I just bought two teas of early invoice # and I'm not happy with them.

In Nepal, I've gotten teas from Buddha Tea Shop through friends visiting Nepal. They handle some good gardens. I am lucky to know one of the owners of Jun Chiyabari and he visits Bangkok every year but they don't sell online or in Nepal! You need to be a wholesaler to buy from them directly. Shangrila, Kuwapani, and Arya Tara are very good gardens. There are many smaller gardens that are unknown. Udyan Tea is also sourcing from these small sellers. Great values can be had from these teas.
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