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The arrival of a new tea season

  • This is the season to savour a cup of Darjeeling’s famed second-flush black tea – the muscatel

The muscatel is a complex tea with multiple flavour notes making it a favourite of tea connoisseurs
The muscatel is a complex tea with multiple flavour notes making it a favourite of tea connoisseurs (iStockphoto)

Some time ago, Gautam, a reader of this column and a Darjeeling tea lover, had shared a poem — an ode to the muscatel — written by his brother, Girish. Reading it once again today, I wonder if any other tea from India inspires this absolute devotion. I don’t think there is.

This is the season of the muscatel, Darjeeling’s famed second-flush black tea, made from bug-bitten leaves and at only this time of the year. I do think it has been Darjeeling’s biggest success, yet these teas are only sought out by connoisseurs. So, what is the fuss about the second flush? Vikram Mittal of the Delhi-based Mittal Teas, a tea store that also retails online, describes it as a complex tea that begins with a hint of woodiness that is replaced with a fruity note, followed by an unexpected sweetness when you swallow.

If you have never been a Darjeeling-tea drinker or are used to milk tea or chai, Mittal recommends starting with a better-quality CTC, moving to orthodox Assam and then to Assam longleaf, before arriving at the Darjeeling second flush. At each step, he suggests reducing the amount of milk in the tea to allow for the flavours to come through.

If you want to embark on a Darjeeling journey, the coming weeks are going to be interesting. The second-flush teas are beginning to arrive in stores—and will continue to do so for another month. If you are unsure of where to start, choose a blended Darjeeling. Mittal offers six varieties. Your favourite tea store very likely also carries a good second-flush.

For those already hooked on to this tea, the year is looking promising. Divya Puri at TeaCupsFull, a retail tea brand, is selecting teas from what he calls the “muscatel belt” between Kurseong and Sonada, which includes the estates of Margaret’s Hope, Castleton, Singbulli, Goomtee, Oaks and Balasun. His top two gardens: Castleton and Margaret’s Hope.

Vivek Lochan of Siliguri-based Tea Swing, which also retails online, is tasting teas from Giddapahar. He’s selling and selecting the Giddapahar Muscatel and their AV2 black tea (the AV2 is a popular clone in Darjeeling which, suffice to say, connotes a flavourful tea). He has already selected teas from Ringtong and Risheehat and has high expectations from the estates of Jungpana, Thurbo, Okayti and Avongrove.

While most gardens and buyers will focus on the classic black tea and muscatels, I am equally excited by the rule breakers. At his estates, Rohini and Gopaldhara, Rishi Saria continues his experiment with tea-making. I am looking forward to the Honey Oolong (reminiscent of the muscatel in its bug-bitten origins but lighter than the latter) and a summer green tea made from Japanese cultivar growing on the estate.

All these teas can be steeped in the classic hot brew style or as a cold brew. Mittal adds that the Darjeeling black tea keeps very well, so you can hoard it for the year (store in dark airtight tins, away from strong flavours) to enjoy every day. This summer, let’s drink Darjeeling!

Tea Nanny is a fortnightly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1 on Twitter.

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