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Tea tasting the fascinating flavors of Darjeeling teas

  • Arif Suryobuwono

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Thu, January 16, 2014 | 11:23 am
Tea tasting the fascinating flavors of Darjeeling teas Real flavor: Tasting Lochan Darjeeling teas placed side by side in two flights of three. (JP/Arif Suryobuwono) (JP/Arif Suryobuwono)

Real flavor: Tasting Lochan Darjeeling teas placed side by side in two flights of three. (JP/Arif Suryobuwono)

Mixed opinions marked the informal tasting of six Darjeeling teas by members of Pecinta Teh tea lovers'€™ community.

The six teas included five from Lochan Tea Limited and one from Makaibari Estate, all of them first flush 2013. One local premium tea '€” a specialty Cakra tea from West Java '€” was also featured.

Most of the tasters preferred Lochan'€™s '€œMargaret'€™s Hope'€ Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, first flush (FTGFOP 1) tea, for its '€œflowery and spicy'€ aroma, as moderator Se Tjie put it, and also for its light, clean and smooth texture.

Julian, a moderator who brought the teas for the informal tasting event, said the tea gave him an '€œorange peel taste'€.

I found sharp flavors in the first steeping that mellowed in the second and transformed into a good balance of nutty flavors and vegetal, herbaceous flavors in the third infusion.

After 10 minutes, the initially light floral scent, which reminded me of zinnias, became more vivid and was interspersed by a light spiciness.

Dissenting opinions came from another moderator, Bambang Laresolo, and Indonesian tea collector Fitraldly Said, who opted for Lochan'€™s '€œArya Ruby'€, and me, who treasured '€œCastleton'€ Special (S) FTGFOP 1.

Arya Ruby was indeed impressively flavorful with its combination of caramel, malt, floral and spicy nutmeg flavors. Although the water used to steep the tea was reverse osmosis filtered water, without minerals, and thus void of its naturally occurring sweetness, the tea still featured a sweet taste.

Perhaps accentuated by its sweet caramel base, the floral flavors, which reminded me of tree marigold (Tithonia diversifolia) and Chinese medicinal chrysanthemum, became more pronounced than Margaret'€™s Hope, and the texture was delicate.

But I found Castleton to be more complex, livelier, more vibrant, brisker and stronger in flavor than Arya Ruby. It was also malty and redolent with the fragrance of citrus flowers and a peculiar grapey flavor, perhaps muscatel. However, I wasn'€™t sure because muscatel is normally found in second flush rather than first flush Darjeeling teas.

Two of the six teas found themselves in the unfortunate position of being put in the middle of two great ones. Lochan'€™s '€œLongview'€ FTGFOP 1, coming from a lot producing under 100 kilograms (Ex 7), was tasted right after Margaret'€™s Hope and before Castleton on simultaneous steeping. Meanwhile, Lochan'€™s '€œSourenee'€ FTGFOP 1 Chinese varietal (CH) Organic was tasted after '€œMakaibari'€ FTGFOP 1 Souchong (S) Organic and before Arya, also on simultaneous steeping.

Both suffered from '€œthe curse of being in the middle'€, as one of the tasters remarked. If tasted individually in one steeping at a time, both might be appreciated better.

At best, Longview was floral, brisk and fruity on the second steeping, while Sourenee showcased a dark chocolate aroma that was very mildly reflected in the flavors.

As Longview was grown in a lot situated at a lower altitude, the quality of its tea could not compete with that from higher altitudes such as Castleton (grown at 2,300 meters) and Margaret'€™s Hope (grown at 950 to 1,830 meters).

Coming from altitudes ranging from 700 meters to 1,300 meters, the Sourenee tea had a taste that was less intense than Arya and less smooth than Makaibari, which, according to Bambang, was sweet and delicate, with an orange peel taste. With no outstanding taste on its own, Sourenee found itself in an uneasy position in the middle.

The local premium tea was TGFOP Dewata Specialty Tea Reg. No. 1189.3 from Kabepe Cakra, which reportedly had some muscatel flavor.

According to Bambang, it was initially named Dewjeeling after some buyers remarked that it had peachy notes associated with Darjeeling'€™s first flush teas.

Owner Robby Badruddin once said that some buyers believed it had some muscatel flavor and that the best production was during the dry season (there is neither first nor second flush because Indonesia has only two seasons).

Robby even bought a bottle of Pio Cesare Moscato wine in order to learn what a muscatel taste
was like. Well, I didn'€™t get a muscatel flavor from this tea, which was dark in color and tannic with some bitterness.

But Julian got a touch of it at the beginning, before it failed to develop into a full muscatel flavor. If this is the case, it is quite an achievement as this quintessentially Darjeeling flavor is elusive and reportedly cannot be replicated anywhere else.

Knowing the terms

FTGFOP 1 stands for Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe in which '€œtippy'€ indicates an abudance of tips, '€œgolden flowery'€ suggests that the tips are very young tips or buds (usually golden in colour) that were picked early in the season, and '€œorange pekoe'€ denotes the highest tea leaf grade (a bud and a leaf).

These two words are perhaps a combination of the Netherlands'€™ House of Orange Nassau '€” whose trading arm, the Dutch East Indies Company, (VOC) was instrumental in exporting tea to Europe '€” and Xiamen dialect for '€œwhite down'€.

Number '€œ1'€ refers to first flush.

'€œS'€ in front of FTGFOP stands for special and the '€œF'€ afterwards stands for finest, thus indicating a superlative grade. Lochan and Makaibari are tea merchants who source tea leaves from different estates in Darjeeling, such as Margaret'€™s Hope or Arya.

'€œEx'€ refers to a lot that is under 100 kg. When a garden or estate wants or is forced to sell part of a lot of a particular tea in Darjeeling, it marks that particular lot as an Ex lot.

The '€œS'€ after FTGOP refers to Souchong, a fine black tea variety of China tea, which is made from the larger older leaves of the shoot.

'€œCH'€ means Chinese varietal, suggesting that the tea comes from old Chinese seed bushes, said to have a special taste.