Yes, it's that time of year again. When you see the second flush Darjeeling's on the market then you know Autumn is just around the corner. From Uptons, the go-to place for Darjeeling teas. Upton's is from my experience, just about the most professionally operated online tea vendors out there on that inter-web thing. Ive been buying from them for maybe the past 10 years or so and never once have I had any problem. Very prompt service, order's are almost always shipped out the same day and it's not unusual for my order to be delivered within one to two days after ordering. O.K. here go's....Puttabong Estate 2nd flush SFTGFOP1 Cl/Qu. These acronyms are the grading system India uses to get REAL specific about just what pigeon hole these teas fit into. In other words, Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe "Grade" 1 Clonal Queen. A bit much.....isn't it?
At their best Darjeeling has got to be one of the most sublime teas there is. But Darjeeling has not been up to snuff for several years now. Last year Darjeeling suffered a draught and the teas were not on a par with previous years. You could find the occasional gem here and there but all in all it was another year of disappointment.
Ive noticed something different about Darjeeling's in the past few years, there are more and more of them displaying a malty flavor in the cup. I don't remember ever having noticed this before. The malty flavors are something that I would expect from India's native Assamica varietal of tea tree. True Darjeeling is made from China clonal bushes, which leads me to wonder if they are gradually introducing their native tea trees into the gardens. And if so, why? Is there a higher yield? Easier to grow?
Ive had an on again, off again, love affair with Darjeeling teas for years and years. When they are good, they are REALLY good. But more often than not they get an "it's pretty good" ranking from me. This Darjeeling falls into the later category. Puttabong has never been one of my preferred estates but with this years 1st flushes from Puttabong getting such rave reviews I thought maybe they deserve a re-investigation from me. I,m still not that impressed. It's a good quality everyday type of Darjeeling. You know, the kind of Darjeeling you are likely to find in gourmet grocery stores. The dry leafs colors are beautiful, presents the full color spectrum of browns, oranges and some rusty reds with the occasional silver tip.
This tea is fresh, I,ll give it that much. It has some of the stereotypical aspects I want to see in a Darjeeling but it's falls just a little short of being all it could be. A little fruity and floral, too astringent with normal brewing methods. By keeping the steeping time shorter than what I would usually go for some of that astringency can be left behind in the pot. The flavor isn't as fully developed as it should be and the body is a tad thin, it's just kinda flat. For the past several years Darjeeling hasn't been getting the quality they are capable of. Not their fault though, there's nothing they can do about the weather. But I,m not calling it a day as far as this years Darjeeling's are concerned, I plan on trying Arya Estates 2nd flush when they come out. Arya is (in my opinion) just about the best there is when it comes to the second flushes. Especially the "Ruby" grade.
Sorry for that glaringly orange pic up there, don't know what I was thinking when I took that. The tea ware? That's a set made by Hokujo, a Japanese potter. Hokujo's tea wares are the best of the best when it comes to hand made pottery. Very high grade, well processed clay. His skill is baffling, every line, edge has perfect uniformity. I normally use this pot for green teas but every once in a while I,ll brew something like this tea in it. This set is one of my most cherished pieces, my Sencha just wouldn't be the same without it. But as with all things in life, you get what you pay for, his wares are not cheap. I think the pot alone is a little under $200.00 Hokujo rarely uses a glaze on his wares, I guess he wants the focus to be on the clay itself. Why would you want to cover that clay with anything?
Note: after drinking this tea for a few days and experimenting with brewing parameters I realized that cooler water and shorter infusion times bring out some malty flavors as well as the fruit, leaving a lot of the biting astringency behind in the pot. Still.....not a great tea but better than I initially thought.