We cannot wait for this winter to take a rest. It is late February and we are faced with yet another prospect of an Arctic Vortex. But the signs of hope are emerging - bulbs are pushing forth from the frozen ground, the call of birds ring out now and then, and there are more blue skies.
This morning I went out to take picture of the emerging shoots and I see it has been buried under last night's snow. It meant to place it here. Oh, well...
I decided to join in with the forces of the changing seasons - seemingly debilitated this year - by pulling out a spring harvest tea of last year. For this morning it was Darjeeling Arya Black. Harvested at the end of March 2013, this first flush Darjeeling is of FTGFOP grade. Although not top of the heap, this tea in appearance and taste has all the hallmarks of a good first flush. It was hard not to imagine and feel the spring whilst drinking it.
This tea now almost a year old has managed to retain its “greeness” very well. Remember that a modern Darjeeling first flush is not a fully oxidized tea. Although the industry calls it a black tea, it is more a partially oxidized oolong. A hard withering and minimal oxidation results in a greenish Darjeeling first flush.
The tea has an amount of silver tips which indicates fine plucking. It smells “grassy” but has an underlying sweetness and peppery notes. It is not sublime as some first flush can be, but is certainly better than an average first flush.
I have found an unusually shaped cup and saucer both from Bavaria and they pair well. The cup is shaped wide like a Japanese summer tea bowl and has a sleek and sharply protruding handle. It’s Hutschenreuther marking is from between 1918-45. The saucer is oval and its Winterling Roslau marking is from between 1945-50. The two make an elegant pair and Darjeeling always deserves an elegant treatment - something worthwhile to strive for.
I do a four minute steep. The smell and the sight of the infusion as I pull out the strainer-basket brings cheer to the heart. The first rise of the vapors brings with it a sweet notes of vegetal and floral character.
As I sip on the pale amber liquor, the enjoy the subtle notes that are sweet and clean. They transport me - like every good Darjeeling - to the home of this tea. It places me especially in those pristine quarters of the hills where the air is suffused with the pure and gentle aromas of the earth that is enough by itself to revive and rejuvenate you.
I feel the beauty of a Darjeeling first flush is its subtlety. It is not loud and flamboyant, but like some of those delicate paintings from the east. This tea woos your most sensitive side and is great to expand your palate towards more subtle tastes.
The best part is the aftertaste that lingers long after you've finished your cup. You feel the breath fresh and cool in your mouth. For me I was breathing a Darjeeling spring for the rest of the day!