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History of tea in Darjeeling, India
Until the 19th century, most tea came from China. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that an entrepreneurial English physician named Campbell established a health retreat in the rainy foothills of the Himalayas. Dr. Campbell believed the high mountain climate of Darjeeling, India to be beneficial to human health and ideal for the growing of tea, as well.
Dr. Campbell planted a variety of smuggled Chinese tea seeds on sanatorium grounds and the rest is, as they say, history. Today, the hybrid teas grown and harvested in the Darjeeling earth are considered by tea lovers to be among the finest in the world. There are four main varieties of Darjeeling Tea.
Black tea comprises the overwhelming majority of tea consumed around the globe. Because black leaves are both fermented and oxidized, they are the most processed and most robust of all Darjeelings.
Less oxidized than black tea, green Darjeeling leaves are dried but not fermented. Many people prefer the slightly bitter flavor of green tea and swear by its ability to reduce appetite and rev up metabolism.
To qualify as true Darjeeling oolong, the tea leaves must be grown at an altitude of no less than 3,000 feet above sea level. Average temperature is not to exceed 20° C throughout the growing season. Buds and leaves are gently rolled and softly withered in natural air and sunlight.
To make the rarest of all Darjeelings, buds and tender leaves are hand-plucked and slightly withered in natural sunlight before being gently rolled and dried. White teas are unoxidized and provide a clear, pale amber liquor.
Four harvests of Darjeeling tea
Fine Darjeeling tea is classified by harvest. Pale and mildly astringent, first flush Darjeeling leaves are harvested just after the springtime rains in late March. Full-bodied second flush teas are made with leaves plucked in June. Monsoon teas are processed with mature leaves that are harvested after the summer rains but before the Autumnal harvest in late October.
How to prepare Darjeeling tea
Start with a kettle of the purest water you can find and bring it almost to the boiling point. Use about 1 tablespoon or 3 grams of tea per 8 ounces of near-boiling water and steep for three to five minutes. Bright and earthy, tea from Darjeeling are best enjoyed unsweetened, or livened up with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Health benefits of tea
All varieties of Darjeeling tea are rich in antioxidants called polyphenols that are known to alleviate the cell damage that may precede cancer. Steeped tea may reduce dental caries by eliminating the bacteria that causes tooth decay.
Accept only Indian-grown Darjeeling
Darjeeling tea has much in common with champagne. Wines produced with grapes grown in the Champagne region of France are the only wines that may call themselves champagne. The same holds true for Darjeeling tea. Only teas that are grown and processed in the West Bengal region of India known as Darjeeling may lawfully use the Darjeeling moniker.