Darjeeling black tea, known as the "champagne of teas," refers to tea made from the Camellia Sinensis plant that is grown in the Darjeeling region of India. It is heralded for its quality, muscatel flavor.
Darjeeling varieties are the most expensive teas of their kind and differ from other black teas primarily because of environmental conditions where the plant is grown. Enough sunshine and just the right amount of rain produces the unique, appealing flavor.
According to tea expert Kaushal Dugar of Darjeeling Tea Express, Darjeeling tea garden producers allow the plants to age longer and naturally.
This provides for the organic nutrients to seep through the roots and for the sun's vitamins to penetrate each leaf and produce the superb flavor for which the tea is known.
The tea plants are grown at 6,800 feet above sea level and are aged naturally, which contributes to the astringent and tannic characteristic of the brew. Darjeeling tea's floral aroma and musky spiciness come from the mountainous soil.
All Darjeeling teas undergo the same harvesting and processing methods to yield the unique, quality taste. The process involves:
Darjeeling black tea differs from the other types because the tea leaves must be fully dried until they are dark in color. Then, they are carefully cracked to let in more oxygen. This is the 100% oxidation process, which also makes the leaves turn dark in color.
The tea is usually graded on one of four different scales of varying sizes. Whole leaf teas are highest quality followed by broken leaves, fannings, and dusts. Whole leaf teas are widely considered the most valuable, especially if they contain leaf tips.
Whole leaf teas are produced with little-to-no changes to the actual tea leaf. This results in a finished product with a coarser texture than that of bagged teas.
Broken leaves are commonly sold as medium grade loose teas. Fannings are usually small particles of tea leftover from the production of larger tea varieties and are typically used in bagged teas.