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Darjeeling tea

Type: Usually sold as Black

Other names: The Champagne of Teas
Origin: Darjeeling, India

Quick description: Fruity, floral, astringent

Darjeeling tea is a tea from the Darjeeling district in West Bengal, India. It is available in black, green, white and oolong. When properly brewed, it yields a thin-bodied, light-coloured infusion with a floral aroma. The flavour can include a tinge of astringent tannic characteristics and a musky spiciness sometimes described as "muscatel".[1]

Unlike most Indian teas, Darjeeling tea is normally made from the small-leaved Chinese variety of Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, rather than the large-leaved Assam plant (C. sinensis var. assamica). Traditionally, Darjeeling tea is made as black tea; however, Darjeeling oolong and green teas are becoming more commonly produced and easier to find, and a growing number of estates are also producing White Teas. After the enactment of Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection Act, 1999) in 2003, Darjeeling tea became the first Indian product to receive a GI tag, in 2004-05 through the Indian Patent Office.[2]


  • History 1
  • Designation 2
  • Varieties 3
    • Darjeeling white tea 3.1
    • Darjeeling oolong 3.2
  • Darjeeling tea terms 4
  • Grades 5
  • Tea estates 6
  • Management and labour issues 7
  • References 8
  • See also 9


Tea planting in the Indian district of Darjeeling began in 1841 by Arthur Campbell,[3] a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service. Campbell was transferred to Darjeeling in 1839 from Kathmandu, Nepal. In 1841, he brought seeds of the Chinese tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) from Kumaun and began to experiment with tea planting in Darjeeling.[4] The British government also established tea nurseries during that period (1847). Commercial development began during the 1850s.[5] In 1856, the Alubari tea gareden was opened by the Kurseong and Darjeeling Tea company,[4] followed by others.[5][6]


Logo of the Darjeeling Tea Association - the central portion is the actual certification mark.

According to the Tea Board of India - "Darjeeling Tea" can only refer to tea that has been cultivated, grown, produced, manufactured and processed in tea gardens (see 'Tea Estates' section below) in the hilly areas of Sadar Subdivision, only hilly areas of Kalimpong Subdivision consisting of Samabeong Tea Estate, Ambiok Tea Estate, Mission Hill Tea Estate and Kumai Tea Estate, and Kurseong Subdivision excluding the areas in jurisdiction list 20, 21, 23, 24, 29, 31 and 33 comprising Siliguri subdivision of New Chumta Tea Estate, Simulbari and Marionbari Tea Estate of Kurseong Police Station in Kurseong Subdivision of the District of Darjeeling in the State of West Bengal, India grown on picturesque steep slopes up to 4000 ft (ca. 1200 m). Tea which has been processed and manufactured in a factory located in the aforesaid area, which, when brewed, has a distinctive, naturally occurring aroma and taste with light tea liquor and the infused leaf of which has a distinctive fragrance.

Adulteration and falsification are serious problems in the global tea trade;[7] as of 2004, the amount of tea sold as Darjeeling worldwide every year exceeds 40,000 tonnes, while the annual tea production of Darjeeling itself is estimated at only 10,000 tonnes, including local consumption. To combat this situation, the Tea Board of India administers the Darjeeling certification mark and logo (see right).[8] Protection of this tea designation is similar in scope to the protected designation of origin used by the EU for many European cheeses. According to the Tea Board, Darjeeling tea cannot be grown or manufactured anywhere else in the world, a labeling restriction similar to the E.U. protections for Champagne and Jamón ibérico.[9]


First flush Darjeeling tea
After steeping

Traditionally, Darjeeling teas are classified as a type of black tea. However, the modern Darjeeling style employs a hard wither (35-40% remaining leaf weight after withering), which in turn causes an incomplete oxidation for many of the best teas of this designation, which technically makes them a form of oolong. Many Darjeeling teas also appear to be a blend of teas oxidized to levels of green, oolong, and black.

  • First flush is harvested in mid-March following spring rains, and has a gentle, very light colour, aroma, and mild astringency.
  • In between is harvested between the two "flush" periods.
  • Second flush is harvested in June and produces an amber, full bodied, muscatel-flavoured cup.
  • Monsoon or rains tea is harvested in the monsoon (or rainy season) between second flush and autumnal, is less withered, consequently more oxidized, and usually sold at lower prices. It is rarely exported, and often used in masala chai.
  • Autumnal flush is harvested in the autumn after the rainy season, and has somewhat less delicate flavour and less spicy tones, but fuller body and darker colour.

Darjeeling white tea

Darjeeling white tea brews with a delicate aroma and a pale golden colour.

The white variant of Darjeeling tea has a delicate aroma and brews to a pale golden colour with a mellow taste and a hint of sweetness. Darjeeling white tea leaves are very fluffy and light; therefore, it is recommended to use more (by volume) when preparing it than one normally would for other teas.[10]

The tea is hand picked and rolled, then withered in the sun, making it a rare tea. It is grown in the rainy and cold climate of Darjeeling at altitudes up to 2000 metres.

Darjeeling oolong

Darjeeling oolong tea - chocolatey oolong - characteristic of teas from the region

The oolong variant of Darjeeling tea has two distinct types: clonal and China. The China type is more similar to Taiwan oolong and the clonal type is totally different from it.[11]

Darjeeling oolong is lighter than usual Darjeeling black tea during first flush, as it is semioxidized. The cup looks light orange and infusion remains green. Darjeeling oolong in second flush is more accepted worldwide. It is more thick in cup and dark orange in liquor with distinct muscatel flavours. The China type oolong has very rare muscatel flavour and sells somewhere around US$40–200 per kg. Clonal oolong has distinct flowery or spicy taste, so is not as well accepted as Darjeeling oolong worldwide.

Not all Darjeeling gardens are qualified to produce Darjeeling oolong; only those with the following conditions are capable of making it:

  1. Altitudes 3000 ft above sea level are required.
  2. Old China bush (Chesima) concentration should cover at least 40% of total tea-growing area.
  3. Clonal type (AV II) is required – at least 25% at high altitude. (Like the Tingling Division Of Singbulli Tea Estate)
  4. Average temperatures should remain between 5 and 20 °C throughout the season.

Lower elevation gardens can produce teas of similar appearance, but the flavour differs greatly from the main characteristics of oolong tea.

Darjeeling oolong teas are made from finely plucked leaves, usually two leaves and a bud, and are sometimes withered naturally in sun and air. The withered leaves get hand-rolled and pan-fired at certain temperatures. This can also be done in machine: withered in trough, lightly rolled in a rolling machine and fired at 220 °C in a quality dryer with faster run-through, depending on the leaves used.

Darjeeling tea terms

Below, Darjeeling tea aficionados will find, a list of tea terms to describe the Darjeeling loose leaf teas in its raw, dry, or infused state.

Bloom: A term used to refer to the silken sheen, silvery hairy lustre on the tea leaves, resulting from the neat distribution of fine pubescence on the leaf surface.

Bright: Referring to the infused tea leaves. The hue ranges from lively bright colour, as opposed to dull and varies from a delicate lime green ( with hints of fading coppery ) in the first flush or spring flush tea leaves to a bright copper-purple in second flush tea leaves and to a pale brown in autumn flush tea leaves.

Colour: It’s a term relating to the hue on dry tea leaves. Each flush has its own particular characteristics . • First Flush Tea Leaves or Spring Tea as it is also commonly called has grayish-greenish. • Second flush tea leaves or the summer tea leaves has a purplish-brown shade. • Autumn Teas, have blackish brown hues.

Even: A term used for infused leaves for the uniformity of colour and size of the tea leaves.

Nose/Point: It’s a term referred to the infused leaves for their fragrance which has subtle hints of flowers or fruits or Muscatel character or sometimes showing characteristics of transuding all three combined.

Stylish: A term used for referring to dry tea leaves which are wiry, neatly twisted and evenly sized.

Tippy: A term commonly referred to the unopened buds on the tea bush which are transformed into silvery particles called Tips, and which provide an attractive appearance in the ‘finished’ tea.

  • "Chicken soup": A nickname for very milky Darjeeling



When Darjeeling teas are sold, they are graded by size and quality. The grades fall into four basic groups: whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings, and dust.

Whole leaf

  • SFTGFOP: Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe indicates it contains many tips and is long and wiry in appearance. The liquors are lighter in colour.
  • FTGFOP: Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • TGFOP: Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

Broken leaf consists of small tea leaves or pieces of large leaves.

  • FTGBOP: Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
  • TGBOP: Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
  • FBOP: Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
  • BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe

Fannings consists of even smaller leaf sizes than the brokens.

  • GFOF: Golden Flowery Orange Fannings
  • GOF: Golden Orange Fannings

Dust, the lowest grade, consists of small pieces of tea leaves and tea dust.

  • D: Dust

S. Souchong - A twisted leaf picked from the bottom of the tea bush. China produces this grade used in their smokey teas. Broken Leaf teas produce a darker cup and infuse faster than whole leaf teas.

P. Pekoe - A wiry, large broken leaf usually without golden tips. Sri Lanka produces large amounts of Pekoe. B.O.P. Broken Orange Pekoe - A small, flat broken leaf with medium body.

Tea estates

There are 78 tea estates (also called "tea gardens") in the Darjeeling hills that have been accorded the right to label its produce as "Darjeeling Tea" by the Tea Board of India. These estates cover over 17,500 hectares of land, producing over 9 million kg of tea per year and engaging about 50 percent the people of Darjeeling district. Each estate produces teas with different characteristics of taste and aroma.

The Touzi Section of the West Bengal government deals with the control and supervision of all tea gardens in the district of Darjeeling as per the provisions of West Bengal Estates Acquisition Act, 1953. All the tea gardens are leased out for a term of 30 years as per Form I, Schedule F of the WBEA Act. The Touzi Section realizes revenues in the form of land rent, penalty, and fines payable by a tea garden to the Collector.[13]

Mount Kanchenjunga and Darjeeling city seen from Tiger Hill
Darjeeling tea plantation
Tea garden on the way to Rock Garden, Darjeeling
Fresh bud on a tea plant

Some of the popular estates include:

  • Arya
  • Ambootia
  • Avongrove
  • Badamtam
  • Balasun
  • Bannockburn
  • Barnesbeg
  • Castleton
  • Chamong
  • Chongtong
  • D'alrus
  • Dooteriah
  • Gielle
  • Giddapahar
  • Ging
  • Glenburn
  • Goomtee
  • Gopaldhara
  • Happy Valley
  • Hilton
  • Jogmaya
  • Jungpana
  • Kaley Valley
  • Kanchan View
  • Lingia
  • Longview
  • Lopchu
  • Makaibari
  • Margaret's Hope
  • Marybong
  • Mim
  • Moondakotee
  • Mission Hill
  • Nagri Farm
  • Namring
  • Orange Valley
  • Puttabong
  • Peshoke
  • Phoobsering
  • Phuguri
  • Poobong
  • Potong
  • Princeton
  • Pussimbing
  • Ringtong
  • Risheehat
  • Rohini
  • Runglee Rungliot
  • Samabeong
  • Seeyok
  • Selimbong
  • Singbulli
  • Singell
  • Singla
  • Soom
  • Soureni
  • Snowview
  • Steinthal
  • Sungma
  • Takdah
  • Teesta Valley
  • Thurbo
  • Tindharia
  • Tongsong
  • Tumsong
  • Upper Fagu
  • Vah Tukvar

Management and labour issues

Darjeeling tea has been plagued by management-labour problems for several decades. Frequent lock-outs and low wages have been the chief sources of discontent among the tea garden workers.[14] Tea estate managements have claimed that profits from tea estates have diminished over the years, but have been reluctant to make public their revenue figures, and there has been severe criticism of the tea garden owners and management for the exploitation of the tea garden workers by social workers and political activists.[15]


  1. ^ "Darjeeling Tea". Darjeeling district government website. 
  2. ^ "GI tag: TN trails Karnataka with 18 products". The Times of India. Aug 29, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Story of Darjeeling Tea". Darjeeling Tourism. 
  4. ^ a b Mair, Victor H.; Hoh, Erling (2009). The True History of Tea.  
  5. ^ a b "Darjeeling Tea History". Thunderbolt Tea Darjeeling. 
  6. ^ "Glossary of Tea Terms for Darjeeling Loose Leaf Teas". Darjeeling Tea Boutique. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  7. ^ "Identity crisis for Darjeeling Tea". 
  8. ^ Kenny, Gadi (July 2004). "Darjeeling Tea - Intellectual Property Rights of Darjeeling Tea in the age of globalization and world trade". Trade & Environment Database (TED) Journal (American University) (752). Retrieved 2012-01-19. 
  9. ^ "Tea Board". Tea Board of India. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  10. ^ "'"Tea Emporium - 'Authentic Darjeeling tea at your Click!. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  11. ^ "Darjeeling Oolong". RateTea. Apr 10, 2012. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  12. ^ "Darjeeling Tea Terms". Darjeeling Tea Boutique. 
  13. ^ "Touzi Department". Government of India. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  14. ^ "The brew darkens". The Hindu Business Line. Retrieved 9 June 2015. 
  15. ^ "Wage hike cry by hill, plains tea unions". The Telegraph. Retrieved 9 June 2015. 

See also

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