I first heard of roasted Darjeeling from Sparsh Agarwal of Dorje Teas. He was dismayed that monsoon flush teas were dismissed out of hand, with only the first and second flush teas making the cut. The rainy season is not seen as one that produces quality of note. And quite often, it’s this season’s tea that makes its way to blends.
Agarwal said Dorje Teas was taking a different path, acknowledging every season’s harvest as special and different rather than ranking it by quality. And with his monsoon flush, he chose to high-fire the teas to make a roasted black.
Goodricke, the group that owns the famous Darjeeling estates of Castleton, Margaret’s Hope and Badamtam, also has a roasted black tea in its portfolio. The packaging describes it as being perfect for a Bengali adda session and it is, in fact, said to be the largest selling brand in West Bengal.
Unlike Dorje, though, Goodricke’s roasted teas are not limited to the monsoon flush alone. “Roasting imparts a unique flavour to the already existing inherent flavour in the tea,” says Binod Gurung of Goodricke, comparing it to the way a bit of fire by grilling adds flavour to yakitori dishes or a bit of smokiness makes some single malts so sought after.
Not much has been said or written about the roasted Darjeeling, though it has been around for a long time. No one has celebrated it the way the spring flush or muscatel is. It’s a tea that has a fan following in Kolkata but few outside West Bengal know of it, possibly because brands haven’t needed to look beyond the state for a market. In fact, Makaibari launched its roasted black teas in 2019 to cater to a Bengali clientele.
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The processing for roasted tea includes high-firing the leaves, which has to be done carefully so they don’t get burnt. The result is a distinctive, pleasant smokiness that comes through in the flavour. Interestingly, it’s also a Darjeeling tea that accommodates milk, which may make it more appealing to palates accustomed to chai.
I made two cups of a roasted Darjeeling, one black and another with milk and sugar. Both work equally well.
Who should try it? If you have avoided Darjeeling tea simply because it’s too delicate/posh/intimidating/subtle for your taste/only for connoisseurs/cannot be drunk with milk, then this is a tea you should try. Feel free to blend some with your staple black.
If you enjoy the lapsang souchong, this is a tea to try; the similarities and differences between the two make it interesting.
If you are a coffee drinker, you may enjoy this tea far more than others. The colour of a roasted Darjeeling with milk too is closer to coffee than tea.
Lopchu Tea, Goodricke’s Roasted Darjeeling, Makaibari’s Smoky Mountain, Dorje Teas’ Monsoon Flush and Gopaldhara’s Darjeeling Roasted Tea.
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.