It is not always easy to combine two, arguably three, occupations worth of work in to a nine hour work day. Yesterday, I completed nine straight hours of insurance work just to free up enough time today to do a tea related project that I have been waiting months to have an opportunity to perform. Finally, I can do a side-by-side-by-side comparison of the three flushes from one estate in the Darjeeling district of India, the Jungpana Estate. Another heart-filled thank you to the Lochan family at Lochan Tea Limited for providing these samples.
As I had mentioned in my previous side-by-side comparison, the difference in these three teas seems simple at face value, but quite complex as you get into the details. Simply put, the difference is the time of year in which the tea leaves are picked. However, the chemistry of the leaves is vastly different in each of these flushes due to the different environmental conditions of the land in between harvests. This difference in chemistry is very obviously felt in the cups.
When doing a side-by-side comparison, another aspect of the tea is felt at a much more obvious level than when tasting one tea at a time. That aspect is the energy of the tea. Each flush has a very distinct energy and effect that it gives to the drinker, if the drinker is able to grasp it. Honestly, this aspect of the comparison tastings is the most exciting part to me. Yes, the varying aromas and tastes are interesting, but the effect of the energy is truly fascinating.
The tasting cups are ready, teas are measured, and the water has reached the desired temperature, so let the journey begin…
For this comparison, three grams of each flush of dry leaves were placed in separate standard four ounce (100 ml) infusion cups. Purified spring water was heated to 195°F (90°C). The leaves were infused for two minutes. In the interest of time, I will only be performing an official review on the first infusion of each of these teas.
The dry leaves of the first flush had the typical range of colors from bright, lively green to reddish brown to black. The leaves are rolled fragments with some stems being present. The aroma is strongly floral (roses, light jasmine) with a light grape scent.
The dry leaves of the second flush are mostly uniform light to dark brown color with some golden tips. These leaves are also rolled, but are much larger than the first flush. In fact, these leaves appear larger than any other Darjeeling second flush tea that I have seen from other estates, except for the Doke Rolling Thunder Oolong. I believe there may be some unbroken, fully intact leaves in this product. The aroma has strong scents of muscat grapes and roses.
The dry leaves of Autumn flush have similarities to the other two flushes in that they have a wide range of colors from light green (in a lower quantity) to reddish-brown to black, but also has the golden tips like the second flush. The leaves are rolled, with some larger fragments and some smaller fragments, and a few stems. There may be a few fully intact and unbroken leaves, but not as many as the second flush. The aroma suggests the more mature leaves used in this flush, and has scents of roses, light spice, and light grape. I would describe the aroma as being brighter or more lively than the other two flushes.
The first flush produced a liquor with a golden-yellow color, clear and transparent. The aroma is decidedly floral, with scents of roses, jasmine, and lilies. The aroma seriously smells like a bouquet of flowers. The body is medium, with a delicate feel. The taste is complex and very floral, with strong notes of roses, jasmine, and maybe even lilac. There is a moderate astringency that blends nicely with the floral tastes. The aftertaste is persistent and floral. The infused leaves have a fresh forest green color with some reddish-brown leaves. The leaves are all fragments, and have a strong floral aroma with some light grape scents.
The second flush produced a liquor with a darker shade of golden-yellow with an orange tint, clear and transparent. The aroma is sweeter than the first flush, with scents of muscat grapes and roses. The body is medium-full, with a round, smooth feel. The taste has notes of roses, jasmine, and muscat grapes, with a milder astringency than the first flush. The aftertaste is persistent, floral and lightly juicy (grape). The infused leaves are mostly light to dark brown, with a few forest green leaves. Quite a few of the leaves are almost fully intact, with a few being unbroken. Some leaves are still attached to the stem, displaying a bud and one leaf pluck. Most leaves are large fragments. The infused leaves have a sweet aroma with scents of grapes and light floral.
The Autumn flush produced a liquor with an orange color and a gold tint, clear and transparent. This was the darkest liquor of the three in regard to color. The aroma is floral and has a light spice scent also. The body is full, with a mellow and smooth feel. The taste is lively, having notes of jasmine and light spice, with a mild astringency. The aftertaste is persistent, with a floral taste and slight spiciness. The infused leaves vary in color from fresh forest green, but mostly copper to reddish brown. The size of leaf fragments varies from small fragments to a few nearly unbroken leaves, but are mostly larger fragments. The aroma is floral with a light spice.
To summarize my conclusions, all three of the flushes have a strong floral character in the aromas and tastes. The difference comes in the strength of the floral character, which flowers can be identified, and the presence of other aromas and tastes, such as the stronger grape notes in the second flush, and the slight spiciness of the Autumn flush. The first flush had a purely floral aroma and taste, in my opinion, which made it different than the second and Autumn flushes. If one cannot distinguish one flush from another by taste or smell, the look of the leaves can be observed. The first flush leaves are usually greener and brighter in color with smaller leaf fragments, while the second and Autumn flushes are darker and may have some golden tips and larger leaf fragments. These characteristics apply to both the dry and infused leaves. The color of the liquors can also be telling, with the first flush being lightest, the second flush being slightly darker, and the Autumn flush being the darkest color of the three. After this comparison, I am very confident that I will be able to properly identify each flush should I ever be put to the test.
One characteristic that really caught my eye was the appearance of the dry leaves of the second flush. As mentioned earlier, these leaves were quite large and some were unbroken. This fact gave the tea a hand-crafted and high quality appearance. After the comparison tasting, I brewed a pot of the second flush because I enjoyed it so much.
The energy of each tea was quite different from flush to flush. I get a cold, quiet, serene, and fresh feel from the first flush. It was as if I could feel the cool, dormant weather conditions that were stored in the plant and transferred to the fresh leaves of the first harvest. The second flush had a more lively and invigorating feel to it, as if the late spring and early summer warmth had given the plants higher levels of energy and vigor. The Autumn harvest had a bright, warming effect to it, as if the energy of the summer sun and heat can be felt in the cup. It’s a perfect energy to help someone living in a cooler climate to stay warm during the winter. Even the slight spiciness of the Autumn flush seems to fit the mood of the autumn and winter months. Again, feeling the energy is the best part of these side-by-side comparisons.
So, was there an obvious favorite in these three flushes? Not at all. Each tea had great aromas and tastes. Different seasons will give a different preference for the tea. Since it is very cold in Pittsburgh today, I found the Autumn flush to fit my mood more perfectly since it gives me a warm and bright feeling. As the winter trails off and spring begins appearing, certainly the strong floral characteristics of a first flush will more perfectly fit the mood. In the late spring, early summer, the vigor and liveliness of the second flush will provide the energy to get through days with longer sunlight periods. Each tea has it’s perfect time.
As the time approaches for the first flush harvests of 2014, I wish the best of weather and environmental conditions to all the farmers of Darjeeling. I look forward to experiencing the difference in this years products. Thanks again to the Lochan family, who are always graciously providing these excellent samples. Cheers!