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The tea list for all seasons

Hand-rolled oolong from Kangra, autumn flush from Darjeeling, first flush aged tea from Sikkim, and more

India has a dazzling variety of teas to offer. (Photo courtesy: iStockphoto)

This is about the time I would take stock of the year that was, making a neatly numbered list of everything of consequence. But as December rolled in this time, I was just glad to have made it this far. That itch to list persisted, however. So I thought I would make a list of teas I tasted this year.

What are the odds that I would come up with 52 (okay, 56!)? From this, I offer you a list of those I thought were truly memorable. I have very little, or none, of these left in stock—the best criterion to judge favourites.

The hand-rolled oolong from Kangra’s Dharmsala Tea Company took me by surprise. My expectations were low, since we lack the expertise to make oolong. And while I don’t know how this tea holds up to a Formosa—the gold standard for oolong—it was really lovely.

It is distinctly different from a black tea, as it should be. But it’s the aroma that I kept returning to: It was like breathing in mountain air...it reaches deep inside.

It’s hard to pass up a Darjeeling spring flush (unfortunately, it couldn’t be harvested this year). Every garden makes a tea that is special. This year, I returned to a classic, the Makaibari spring black. When I open the packet and take a whiff, I inhale the now familiar scent of the hills, pine trees and freshness.

In summer, I found that white tea makes a cold brew that’s not watery but luscious and velvety. Most high-altitude tea regions in India produce great white teas, but a really well-made white peony (bai mudan) from Rujani in Assam proves that while terroir matters, good tea needs a skilled tea maker.

Summer is also the time for Assam orthodox black tea. The Latumoni Tippy Signature Black was like meeting an old friend. It’s the sweetest, maltiest tea I have tasted.

Not all tea I drink is leaf tea—CTC is my staple. I went through the Darmona CTC rather quickly. It is light, with the unmistakable brightness that proudly announces it’s a Nilgiris tea.

Although I am not a fan of green tea, there were two that displayed great attention to tea making: The Tippy Diamond from Doke is a sweet green tea that didn’t pose the risk of turning bitter or becoming astringent; and the Koliapani Summer Xuwola Green from Assam, with its long leaves, carried a noticeable (and very pleasant) vegetal flavour.

As the seasons shifted, so did my tea. My favourite Darjeeling is, hands down, the autumn flush. It’s understated and refined. The Red Thunder oolong from Gopaldhara offers a mellow but flavourful cup that is perfect for solitary evenings.

Topping my list is the 2018 Sikkim First Flush Aged tea I got from Ketlee. I began to see the attraction of a tea that has been allowed to develop its flavours slowly, unhurriedly. It demanded my complete attention and, in return, offered me a reminder to pause. It doesn’t bring a rush of flavours to the palate; instead, the flavours unravel slowly, as though gauging your commitment. And unless you are patient, its secrets will be lost to you.

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

@AravindaAnanth1

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