People frequently ask what my favorite tea is. It’s an impossible question to answer because my favorite tea is always the one I happen to be drinking at the moment. Equally as difficult for me is the task of choosing the Best Tea of the Year. Our growers consistently provide us with extraordinary teas. For me being asked to choose between them is like asking a parent to choose his/her favorite child! This year, however, two teas stand out from all the rest. Our 1st and 2nd flush Diamond Darjeeling from the Arya Estate may just be the best Darjeeling teas I have ever tasted.
Darjeeling tea is considered by tea aficionados to be the champagne of tea—the best of the best! And, for good reason. The story of how tea came to be grown in Darjeeling, India, amounts to the biggest theft of trade secrets ever! To do it justice I would need a lot more space than what I have here, but here it is in a nutshell. Darjeeling tea originated from seed clandestinely collected by a Scottish botanist named Robert Fortune who went under-cover into China in the 1840’s to gather seed and learn to grow and process tea. His seed was smuggled out of China and into Darjeeling where it was successfully planted. By 1874 the tea industry in Darjeeling was booming with 113 tea gardens employing over 19,000 workers. Today there are over 85 Darjeeling tea gardens producing almost 10 million kg of tea annually. That may sound like a lot, but in reality, it is barely enough to supply the demand for this outstanding tea.
The Arya Estate, a small historic tea garden established by Buddhist monks in 1885, has the distinction of having the first private hydro-power generator in Asia. This small organic tea garden produces artisan teas of exceptional quality in very limited quantities. In many cases (specifically with Diamond and Pearl) they virtually “pluck to order,” so if I don’t place my orders by the end of January I don’t get their teas. You might say it’s a bit of a gamble having to order the tea before the bushes even come out of dormancy. And this year all Darjeeling tea merchants were biting their nails waiting to see if they would get any Darjeeling tea at all! Mother Nature was not kind to the region last winter & spring. Prolonged drought and cold weather threatened all tea production in Darjeeling and, as a result, most tea gardens were down at least 30%. Conditions also effected the quality of much of the tea produced in 2014. I can tell you that I waited with baited breath to receive my first shipment of Darjeeling tea. As it turned out, although Arya's production was down the quality of their teas this year was far beyond my wildest dreams!
This was the first time I had ever ordered Arya's Spring Diamond. The second flush Diamond has been my favorite Darjeeling tea for years. This year I ordered the Spring Diamond (1st flush) for my personal collection, not really intending to offer it for sale. It's quite expensive and I already carry an excellent 1st flush, Arya Ruby, which is more reasonably priced considering its exceptional quality. When I opened the bag I was overcome with a wonderfully captivating aroma of ripe oranges with a complex mixture of floral and nutty undertones and a hint of chocolate and caramel. The leaves are quite long for a first flush and are well rolled and twisted with perfectly intact leaf sets all of which are covered in a silky, downy fuzz giving the leaves a very attractive bloom. There is an incredible number of silver and gold tips, evidence of the extreme care with which the leaves were handled. The infused leaf just serves to substantiate this. The leaves regain their original size and perfect form. The aroma is very sweet with floral, fruity and nutty notes and a hint of mint.
The infusion is very bright and slightly darker than most first flush Darjeelings. A mild astringency along the sides of the tongue is quite refreshing albeit unexpected, followed by a light, silky, buttery feeling in the mouth. The taste is at once minty, sweet and citrusy with a hint of caramel--almost like an afterthought. And as if this were not enough it has a wonderful, lingering sweet, minty aftertaste as a parting gift.