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The Sourcing of 2020's Darjeeling First Flush

From around mid-March to June, the four month period is the most exciting and busiest time for our Tea Makers sourcing team. This also means a fair amount of travelling to our favourite tea growing regions and of course tasting thousands of cups of new spring harvest teas from sublime Anji Bai Cha to delicately floral Darjeeling teas. As a company, our mission is to offer an unmatched range of exquisite tea to our customers and we leave no leaf unturned in our quest to find the best teas out there. We also use this period to reflect, review and add new exciting teas from the new harvesting season.

Darjeeling teas

For spring teas, the first off the starting block is usually the Darjeeling First Flush. During the bitter winter months, beneath the foothills of the Himalayas, the tea plants go into hibernation, and with the onset of the warm spring sunshine and gradually rising temperature, the first spring shoots burst into life. These succulent spring buds carry the most amazing flavours with fruity sweet and floral notes, with the distinctive muscatel flavours unique to the region of Darjeeling.

The harvesting season is largely dependent on the weather condition in each year, but it could start from third week of March to end of April. These tender leaves are then gently rolled and dried to preserve and savour the delicate flavours. Heavy processing will speed up the oxidisation process, that will kill off the delicate flavours and produce more tannin that we all identify as the bitterness associated with black tea. Therefore, these first flush teas are quite light in colour with golden hue, almost like a green or a white tea.

Tea lovers all over the world eagerly wait for the arrival of their favourite tea from the respective tea gardens of their choice. The earliest harvests are always scarce and are usually  produced in micro batches of 5kgs to 20kgs. We have been working very closely with selected tea gardens to source our range of first flush Darjeeling teas and we at The Tea Makers of London take immense pride in being one of the first companies to bring it to our customers each year.

So, what about the 2020 season you might ask! The timing of the harvest needs to be precise when the tender buds are ready to be picked. Going in early or delaying even by a day or two will have an impact on the quality of the teas. As you could imagine, when the covid-19 crisis landed just at the time of the harvesting period, it had a devastating impact on the first flush harvesting period. When the whole of India went into lockdown, the lush green shoots started to get course and mature and became unsuitable as a raw material.

The imposed lock-down due to Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on owners of the tea gardens, and on the workforce, as one third of the revenue comes from the first flush harvesting season. The plantation owners, workers, their family and the local economy are all heavily reliant of the tea industry and 2020 has not been a great year for the region and their livelihood, and our heart goes out to them.

There is some easing of the lock-down at the time of writing this piece, where some tea gardens are staring to gradually harvest what is left, although many of the over grown leaf needed to be “skiffed” (removed) in order to regenerate new fresh shoots that will become suitable for harvesting. We will be very lucky if we managed to source any further First Flush Darjeeling Teas. We will keep searching for teas that are of reasonably good quality. However, the chances are that we will have to wait unit 2021 for the much loved Junpana, Makaibary etc... fingers crossed!

Unlike the previous years, our 2020 Single Origin First Flush Darjeeling teas are restricted to Glenburn Estate, Rohini Estate and Doke Fusion, a small independent biodiverse tea garden. As always, we are constantly on the lookout for good teas from the region and as long as we find teas that meets our high quality threshold, we will try source them for our Darjeeling tea lovers. So, watch this space.

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