Tag Archives: India

Darjeeling – The Champagne of Tea

Darjeeling is often called the champagne of teas.

New Year’s is associated with Champagne, but for tea drinkers this also means its time for Darjeeling, the champagne of tea. (Photo by flicker user Bill Masson – https://www.flickr.com/photos/maxblogbits/ ).

A New Year is traditionally toasted with champagne, for tea drinkers that means bringing out Darjeeling, the champagne of teas. Darjeeling tea got this nickname because of the complex fruit and floral aromas this tea is known for and the limit quantities that are available due to the shorter growing season and high demand. A traditional Darjeeling tea is a black tea, however, the tea leaves are also used to make white and oolong Darjeelings, which are rare outside of West Bengal.

Darjeeling Terroir

The Darjeeling region borders Nepal in the state of West Bengal, India. It is the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains and carries of perfect terroir of high altitude, moderate to cool climate, and rain. Darjeeling tea is from Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis, not from Cameliia Sinensis Assamica, which is thought of as the traditional Indian tea cultivar. The high altitudes are what allow the Chinese varietal to thrive in India.

On top of being in a distinct region, the Tea Board of India requires registration and monitoring of tea estates in Darjeeling in order to enforce the Geographic Protection given to the region in 2011. Knowing the name of the estate that grew and manufactured the Darjeeling is critical in knowing that the Darjeeling you are drinking is authentic. It is estimated that there are 30,000 more pounds of Darjeeling on the market annually than is produced in the region. This has dropped dramatically, but counterfeit Darjeeling has not been fully eliminated.

Growing Season

Darjeeling tea is picked in March to April during the first picking, or first flush. This occurs during the spring rains. The second flush is typically picked in June. There can be a picking during the monsoons from late June through the fall, but generally these are less flavorful teas and are often only sold locally and are blended into masala chai in the West Bengal region. A fall plucking of tea can also occur, but again not quite as flavorful as the 1st and 2nd flush.

Darjeeling Flavors

Second Flush Darjeeling from Makaibari Estate, West Bengal, India

Makaibari Estate Second Flush Darjeeling

First flush Darjeelings are typically lighter, more floral but will carry a lighter version of the stone fruit flavor than is expected of a second flush. The leaves may appear lighter as these are the first picking and are often not allowed to oxidize as far as a second flush tea.

Second flush Darjeelings are what gave this tea its comparison to champagne. This is a complex tea from a flavor standpoint with a mix of stone fruits from apricot and peach to plum. Some people use the term muscatel, which is a reference to muscatel grapes. This is best described as sweet, fruity, and possibly caramel like in flavor.

The beautiful complex flavor of Darjeeling tea is worth getting to know in the New Year and makes a perfect tea to start the new year with.

Focus on Nepali Tea

Our focus at Dominion Tea is on finding great tea from around the world that we can share with our customers. Since our definition of great tea is actually a combination of great quality loose leaf tea, its ties to history and culture, and having a great story, we are thrilled to be offering a number of great Nepali tea products from the rugged landscape of eastern Nepal where farmers work together to share in production and success from specialty loose leaf tea.

Nepali Tea from Ilam District

Napli Tea comes from eastern Nepal at the foothills of Sandakphu peak.

On the way to Sandakphu peak. By flickr user meghma. CC BY-SA-2.0

As we’ve mentioned before in our post on the history of Nepal tea the country has a significant lack of infrastructure and getting products out of the country can be quite difficult. The Ilam District of Nepal, which has emerged as the major tea producing region of the country, is located 350 miles from Kathmandu. However, travel to Ilam averages 18 hours. Compare this to a trip of similar distance from Washington, DC to Hartford, CT which would take closer to six hours and one can imagine just how difficult travel can be in the country. Despite the difficulties, or perhaps because of the relative closeness to Darjeeling India, which is about 45 miles away, the Nepali government has focused on developing the tea industry in this region.

The Ilam region is dominated by  Buddhism and Hinduism and lies in the shadow of Sandakphu peak. The area is very rugged and a favorite of hikers and trekkers from around the world. In the Nepalese language, Sandakphu is a place for monks to meditate. It is the highest habitable point near the district of Ilam. The Ilam district is located on the far eastern edge of Nepal, adjoining Sikkim and the Darjeeling hills of India. This area is famous for the Maipokhari Ramsar Site, which is a world heritage site for mountain wetlands and the Maipokhari Holy Shrine. In addition, this tranquil environment has a biodiversity that is highly unique, and is home to many endangered species of wild flora and fauna. The character and flavor profile of Sandakphu produced teas is unique to its bio-diversity, relatively new plants, and its high altitude location.

Nepali Tea Production

The production of Nepali tea products which we selected come from tea gardens located between 6,500 feet and 8,000 feet and above. The location is in the foothills of Sandakphu peak and while it is relatively close to Darjeeling, the tea crafted here provides flavors and character which can be compared to none in the world. It is a unique cooperative tea enterprise and is unlike many others in the industry. In additional to the woman who owns the production facility, local farmers actually own the property, tea plants and are share-owners in the factory. This helps ensure that farmers have a significant stake in the success and, as shareholders, directly benefit from the high quality product. Tea quality starts from the green leaf that is provided to the factory for processing, and since ownership of the garden is at farmers’ level, the farmers commit to grow and harvest only the finest leaf for processing resulting in outstanding product.

Nepali Tea Products

Ruby Oolong Gourmet Tea - A Nepali Tea

Close up of steeped Ruby Oolong tea leaf.

We’ve selected a number of these great teas to offer at Dominion Tea. They run the gamut of white, oolong, black, and green tea. Our Nepali tea offerings include:


English Breakfast Tea

There are a number of teas that might be considered staples today including Masala Chai, Lapsang Souchong or Earl Grey tea. One of the best known of these “staple” teas is English Breakfast Tea, a bold, eye opening tea that many turn to for that first cup of the morning. However, English Breakfast Tea isn’t a consistent blend and has somewhat cloudy history like many other tea.

English Breakfast Tea History

Wall Street Between 1870 and 1887

English Breakfast Tea was rumored to have been “invented” near Wall St in the 1800’s. [by George Bradford Brainard – Public Domain]

One of the reasons we love tea is the wealth of stories around tea and English Breakfast is included in this. Many websites will have you believe that English Breakfast Tea never even existed in England until it was brought over from the US after being “invented” by Richard Davies in New York City in 1843. Most of these websites cite a fascinating story in the “Journal of Commerce” as the source for this. Unfortunately, finding the source material for this has proven elusive and the nearest we could find was a reference to the same story in the Daily Alta California from February 1876. It too cites the “Journal of Commerce” though no date of publish, issue number, or other means to track it down. Partial collections of the New York Journal of Commerce are squirreled away in the rare book stacks around the country and if that weren’t bad enough there were “Journal of Commerce” periodicals in many cities across the US and Canada making it possible that the source came from another journal entirely.

From another corner of commerce in the 1800’s comes Robert M. Walsh, author of Tea, It’s History & Mystery, Tea Blending as a Fine Art, and A Cup of Tea. The last of these publications, circa 1884, suggests that English Breakfast was really Chinese Bohea tea; an oolong or black tea produced in the Bohea hills of northern Fujian Province in China. He speaks of Bohea tea as  “a distinct variety, differing in color, liquor, and flavor from the Oolong species, and known to trade in this country [United States] as “English Breakfast” tea, from its forming the staple shipment to England.”

Then there is the Anhui Tourism Administration which states that Keemun was produced by a failed civil servant who sought to bring black tea manufacturing from Fujian to Anhui which had previously only produced green tea. According to the website the result was so good that it quickly gained popularity in England and became the prominent base to English Breakfast Tea.

We are great believers that the truth to most stories is likely somewhere in between. In this case it is likely that what we know as English Breakfast was already enjoyed elsewhere before it was “invented” and marketed to an eager consumer.

English Breakfast Tea Blends

English Breakfast Tea Loose Leaf and Liquor

English Breakfast Tea by Dominion Tea

Today English Breakfast Tea is typically a blend of black teas from Assam, Sri Lanka, and Kenya. Although this is not a hard and fast rule with many including a Chinese Keemun or other black tea instead. The selection of teas used to make English Breakfast are chosen for the qualities they offer to color, flavor, aroma, and mouth feel.  Even if the same teas are used, the ratio of each are bound to be different. The ratio may even be changed from batch to batch to account for subtle differences in one or more of the ingredients. Since tea is an agricultural product the “same” product from the same vendor will have different qualities from year to year.  Each blender chooses the combination that gives just the right taste that they have in mind and which they believe will best meet the needs of their customers. Thus, blends vary widely and will almost certainly be different from company to company.  So no matter what the blend, if a smooth black tea sounds appealing in the morning, reach for some English Breakfast.


Sources Cited
Daily Alta California, Volume 28, Number 9436, 5 February 1876, Page 4, http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DAC18760205.2.38#

Types of teas in Anhui Province, Qimen Black (Keemun) Tea, China Daily, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/m/anhui/travel/2010-04/29/content_9791685_2.htm

A Cup of Tea, by Joseph M. Walsh, 1884, pg 108-109, https://archive.org/stream/cu31924023998184#page/n113/mode/2up

Black Fusion Doke Estate and Bihar Tea

Black Fusion Loose Leaf Tea from Bihar India

Black Fusion, Doke Estate, India

We continue to be fascinated by India and a recent addition of Black Fusion from Doke Estate in the state Bihar only feeds our interest in this dynamic and complicated country. In prior blogs we’ve spent some time discussing Darjeeling, Assam, and even Nilgiri far to the south and west of the country. As we add Black Fusion to our offerings we figured it would be great to provide a bit of background to this region which is far less well known for tea.

Doke Estate

Doke Estate, established in 1998 originally for CTC production, is located on the banks of the Doke River in Pothia within the Kishanganj district of the state of Bihar.  The district technically borders both the Darjeeling District of West Bengal and the country of Nepal, though is actually quite flat, sitting about 800 ft above sea level. This is in dramatic contrast to high grown tea estates of Darjeeling ranging between 4,000 and 6,000 ft in elevation. Owned by the well known Lochan family, this estate was built on land previously thought to be useless for agricultural purposes and is now used for hand made orthodox teas. The nearby Doke River, now with water year round, used to be monsoon fed and is now providing water for irrigation thanks to a nearby hydro-electric power dam and making tea production possible. While their Black Fusion has garnered a lot of attention the estate does produce other hand-made teas as well including green and white teas.

Kishanganj and Pothia

Bodh Gaya - Pilgrimage site for followers of buddhism.

Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya by Man Bartlett, CC BY 2.0

Pothia, where Doke Estate sits, and the broader region of Kishanganj in Bihar isn’t nearly as well known in tea circles as its nearby neighbors of Assam and Darjeeling. While it has had tea plantations since the 1990’s it has struggled to develop it into a large industry and still must rely heavily on processing facilities in West Bengal. However, the industry has continued to grow bringing much needed jobs to the region and slowing migration away from the district.  (Prasad)

Tea aside, this district which at one time was part of Nepal, is about the size of the Hawaiian island of Maui with a population about the size of Idaho. It is one of the poorest regions in India with a 30% literacy rate (~18% among women) and has suffered severe floods and high rates of Polio infection leading UNICEF and other organizations to organize large efforts to immunize large parts of the population.

The state of Bihar is well known in Buddhist circles as it is home to Bodh Gaya, the most holy place on earth for its followers, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Black Fusion, Doke Estate

Doke Estate, Black Fusion leaf and liquor.

A fresh cup of Black Fusion.

We’ll admit to choosing to add Black Fusion before learning a lot about Bihar and now that we have, we hope to learn more. The 2014 Black Fusion is an exceptional black tea. This tea is unique in that it carries qualities of both assam and darjeeling teas yet is grown at a low elevation on flat land. The flavor is fruity with a clean finish expected of assam.

In appearance this is a large, long wiry leaf which is beautiful to admire both prior to steeping and after infusion. The pluck is two leaves and a bud most of which are fully intact and unroll nicely when infused. Steep 3-4 grams slightly cooler than a typical black tea at about 195°F for a more complex buttery flavor profile or hotter with 205°F for a slightly bolder and more malty taste.  


Tea City status eludes Kishanganj, by Bhuvaneshwar Prasad, Oct 20, 2010, The Times of India, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/Tea-City-status-eludes-Kishanganj/articleshow/6777156.cms

Evaluation of Social Mobilization Network (SMNet)- FINAL REPORT, January 2014, UNICEF, http://www.unicef.org/evaldatabase/files/India_2013-001_Evaluation_of_Social_Mobilization_Network_Final_Report.pdf

Kishanganj District Profile, http://www.kishanganj.bih.nic.in/District%20Profile.htm

5 Things About Orange Pekoe Tea

We continue to be amazed by the wide variety of flavors found in the tea world. In an effort to differentiate themselves tea companies are always looking for new flavors and blends to set themselves apart. One thing that still amazes us is to hear people say they love the flavor of Orange Pekoe tea. Since it is not a flavor at all, it seemed inevitable that we would need to dedicate a blog to what Orange Pekoe actually is. In short:

  1. Orange Pekoe is a grade of black tea that a marketing department went wild with.
  2. There is no orange in Orange Pekoe
  3. Tea grading based on Orange Pekoe isn’t mandatory and is primarily for industry buyers.
  4. Grading based on Orange Pekoe generally follows British Colonial influence.
  5. Orange Pekoe says very little about the taste of your tea.

#1. Orange Pekoe is a grade of black tea that a marketing department went wild with.

Orange Pekoe is really a grade of black tea, not a flavor. Major tea bag producers did a disservice to the North American tea drinking public when it decided to market tea with the name Orange Pekoe. At some point they decided, like so many other companies, that marketing should win out over accuracy. At least one of the major brands refreshed their packaging a few years ago so that the word Ceylon (this is now the country of Sri Lanka) started to appear in the same size font in front of Orange Pekoe.

There is no orange in orange pekoe.

No Orange in Orange Pekoe Tea

#2. There is no orange in Orange Pekoe

There is no orange flavoring in the tea. How orange came to be attached to the grading system has several theories, ranging from a marketing ploy to just highlighting the variety of colors residing within the dried leaves. The marketing ploy is an interesting story theorizing that the Dutch East India Company added Orange to the front of the Pekoe, which is a mis-translation of the Chinese word for Bai Hao (Morrison, 1819), to honor the ruling Dutch family, Orange-Nassau.

#3. Tea grading based on Orange Pekoe isn’t mandatory and is primarily for industry buyers.

Grading around “Orange Pekoe” is not a mandatory grading system. Instead it is an agreed upon set of definitions in the industry around the appearance and size of dried black tea leaves. The system is followed by those in industry and anyone who abuses it are quickly corrected by their peers.  The system developed as a way for the Dutch and British to be able to communicate to the growers what they wanted in countries where they did not speak the language. It allows further description to their buyers what, specifically, they wanted.  The system helps to distinguish between the different sizes of whole black tea leaves. Leaf sizes are determined by sifting the tea through fine mesh strainers at the end of the production run. Ultimately, the grading system has nothing to do with quality or taste.

Grade Name Definition
SFTGFOP or SFTGFOP-1 Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – The tea maker considers this to be the best of the best in both color variation, amount of unbroken leaf buds present and size of leaves

FTGFOP Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – Shows the grower considers this a truly special tea both in both color variation, tea leaf size and the amount of unbroken leaf buds in the batch

TGFOP Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – Not just unbroken whole leaves but leaf buds that have not unfurled are present and are typically gold or silver in color, shows an expert handling of the leaves, this is going to be a colorful tea ranging from silver to dark brown

GFOP Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – Larger whole tea leaves, unbroken, with oxidized tips on some leaves that appear golden in color creating a wider variety in color in the dried leaves

FOP Flowery Orange Pekoe – Whole tea leaf with little to no broken parts that is more loosely rolled than orange pekoe so it appears wider in size than orange pekoe, more variation in shades of brown

OP Orange Pekoe – Whole tea leaf that may be slightly broken from processing but is generally whole.  Typically it is a tightly rolled leaf and the color is going to be consistent


#4. Grading based on Orange Pekoe generally follows British Colonial influence.

This system is typically used on black tea from India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Kenya, and some South American countries. While the grading system outlined above is for whole leaf there is a grading system for tea that is crushed for tea bags.  China did not use this system until more recently, in response to market demand, and furthermore it is not used by all tea manufacturers in China either.

#5. Orange Pekoe says very little about the taste of your tea.

Kosabei Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

Large full leaf tea with silver and gold leaf tips.

Experiment with the different grades of black tea and with the country your orange pekoe tea comes from and you may be surprised to learn how diverse orange pekoe flavors can be.  The OP is going to be a more robust blend with a malty flavor, while the SFTGFOP is going to be much lighter in flavor because of all the leaf buds.  Even within the same category the tea is going to taste different because it is an agricultural product and should vary in taste year to year just like the rainfalls and temperature that create the terroir of the tea.  I hope you enjoy the exploration!

Works Cited
Morrison, R. R. (1819). A Dictionary of the Chinese Language, Vol. 1, part 2. Macao: United East India Company.