Friday, June 11, 2010

2010 First Flush Darjeeling

Darjeeling teas are like no other. Many refer to Darjeeling as the "Champagne of Tea," as its character cannot be reproduced in regions outside of Darjeeling. For the past two years, Darjeeling has been devastated by drought conditions that have affected the quality and yields of the tea farmers and left all of us Darjeeling lovers a bit disappointed when we compare current teas with those of years past.

Rishi Tea has a very special relationship with the organic and Fair Trade Certified™ Makaibari tea estate in Darjeeling. For the past ten years, Makaibari and its owner, Mr. Rajah Banerjee, has produced exclusive batches of great tea for Rishi. Even when weather conditions are extremely poor, Rajah always manages to make Rishi some stunning teas that stand out as among the best in Darjeeling. Makaibari does not sell its teas at auction and chooses its few customers very strictly, so we are so thankful for Rajah, and the tea people of Makaibari for making their best quality batches available to us year after year. 

"Dear Joshua,
This year has been the second successive year of unprecedented drought for the region. The first flush virtually shriveled on the bushes, as it wilted under the scorching, unrelenting sunshine, accompanied by dry, crippling March winds. It was tortuous to go around the plantations listening to the agonizing screams of the parched tea bushes – it is a heart-wrenching exercise. The rains have arrived six weeks too late. We have had a dieback of about 5% of the plantation, and only 25% of the first flush was harvested. The entire economics of a Darjeeling tea estate depends on the lucrative first flush – losing it entails losses. This is the second year on the trot that such a devastating drought has wreaked such enormous damage on the plantation’s holistic health. Support is needed from all of our wellwishers to overcome the challenges that face us at Makaibari."


The owner of the estate, Rajah Banerjee with the acclaimed Makaibari forests in the background. Makaibari is one of the few estates in the world to have 2 acres of sub-tropical forest for every acre of tea. Note the enormous variety of the vegetation and the foliage of the forests. Mr. Banerjee is the 4th generation of the founding family of Makaibari, the oldest garden in Darjeeling, established in 1859.

The Darjeeling teas we buy from the Makaibari Estate are small production batches referred to as micro-lots. This year, we chose two micro-lots that have distinctive characteristics, which stand out from one another. Due to the late harvest and drought conditions in Darjeeling this year, the first flush teas are tending to have a bit more color and a less brisk character.

First Flush Darjeeling, Micro-lot DJ 3/10: Bright and lively mouthfeel with succulent flavor. This tea has a medium and elegant astringency with a long lasting after taste and complex aromatics of peaches, Muscat Grapes and tropical flowers. This lot is very refreshing and energizing.

1st Flush Micro-lot DJ 7/10: Less brisk and a bit softer than DJ 3/10 with a more focused and succulent pit fruit flavor. The aroma is less floral than DJ 3/10 but unique with its pleasant hints of roasted grain and piquant black pepper.

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