Whenever we drink a lovely cup of black tea, we should thank both Britain and India for helping to make this exalted liquor a world wide beverage. The history of tea cultivated in India and Sri Lanka is a long one, though much shorter than the history of tea in China, and does truly owe it’s explosive growth in the 19th century to the relationship between east and west
The black tea that comes from Assam is named after the state it s grown in, an area that sits like a political archipelago in the north and west of the nation- anchored to the main part of the nation by a thin strip of land called the Siliguri Corridor. The tea that comes from this region is prized for the unique varietal that produces it; Camellia sinensis var. assamica. These low elevation teas 9most is grown at or near sea level) are known for a big body, a malty flavor and bold coloration in the liquor.
One of the world’s great teas, Darjeeling is named not after the varietal, but rather from the region it comes from in India. Similar to the naming conventions for fine wines, the Tea Board of India has strict regulations on what can be sold as Darjeeling. The tea farms that produce this “Champagne of teas” are higher elevation zones, with heights of up to 4000 ft. on average, tea farms that cling to the sides of picturesque mountains.
Several pluckings (flushes) occur with Darjeeling teas, with each separate season bringing slightly different results in the leaf and resulting liquors. First flush plucking (mid-March) Darjeelings will be lighter in color with a more nuanced infusion and a slightly more prevalent astringency. Second flush (June) produces the fuller, darker flavors of sweet muscatel so often associated with the region. In-between flushes are also known to occur in the 87 farms that comprise the area, and recent adjustments to practices have allowed experimentation with more lightly oxidized Darjeelings to enter into the category of Oolong teas.
Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon) entered the world of tea after a coffee rust outbreak brought down the coffee plantations. Rapid expansion of tea cultivation led to larger and larger export, helping to transform England into a land of tea shops. The orange pekoe name does not refer to actual color, but refers to leaf grade. Our own Victorian Breakfast uses our low elevation Sri Lankan orange pekoe for body and intense flavor. The leaf is tightly curled, and creates a vibrant, deep color in the cup, with a sweet and bright flavor reminiscent of some Assam teas.