Every spring avid tea drinkers and connoisseurs from around the world eagerly await the arrival of the First Flush teas to come out of the Darjeeling Estates. Located in eastern India, these historic tea gardens have been producing some of the world's highest quality teas in relatively small quantities, and have become world renowned for their emphasis on perfecting the art of cultivating tea. Everything is cut and produced by hand, you'll never find tea bags, and most importantly, you'll never be disappointed. Among these esteemed tea gardens, the Monteviot estate has consistently produced some of the finest, small batch luxury tea available since the mid 1800's, and in many circles their first flush is consistently referred to as "the Champagne of Tea". The unique raking process used during the oxidation of this exclusive Darjeeling tea causes the tea to range from Green, to Oolong, to Black in every cup, which creates a complex nutty and "muscatel" flavor that is fresh, sweet, zesty and slightly spicy while retaining a certain mellowness throughout.
So as you can imagine, every year around the spring when the tea leaves in this region begin to flush and the farms get ready for harvest, the tea world starts to buzz with an almost palpable excitement that’s something akin to the days leading up to your favorite holiday. Calls are made, deals are struck, and individuals travel vast distances to inspect and hopefully secure a crate of this rare gem from the tiny 88-hectare (less than 220 acres) tea garden in the Kurseong valley.
But amid the usual fanfare and frenzied titillation that usually washes over the community of luxury tea drinkers, there was grave concern in the inner circles closest to these virtually hallowed gardens that this year's anticipation was only going to be met with disappointment for too many.
What was the problem? What could possibly throw those closest to these estates into such a state of disarray?
The short answer?
Every year, like clockwork, the Darjeeling region experiences what the locals call the "Christmas Rain", which a period of heavy rainfall in late December that usually lasts through mid January and is vital for a vibrant harvest come late April when the first flush leaves are usually primed and ready for plucking. But as the January turned to February, the region still didn't see any significant rainfall. As March closed in some people in the region began to panic. Without the rain there would be nothing to prompt the tea plants to grow their healthiest buds that ultimately provide the best tea the plant will produce all year. If the tea bushes didn't receive a heavy dose of hydration soon, specifically before April, the plants would enter their cyclical "Banjhi" period, an Assamese word that literally translates to "sterile". It is a dormant phase where the bud that grows at tips of the plants shoots are much smaller and develop far less than their flush counterparts while the leaves below them continue to grow. If this were to happen, the tea that would be produced would be second flush at best, which is always marked by a palatable decrease in overall quality. This had everyone from the farmers to seasoned tea drinkers on edge.
As February faded away we find ourselves at the Ides of March. An auspicious time that once shook the classic world with the assassination of Julius Ceasar, a time that would forever determine the fate of the Roman Empire and the rest of the world along with it. Much like the historical parable, this was an equally auspicious time for the Darjeeling estates. If the rain didn't come soon the world was about to lose one of it's most sought after teas to what seemed like a cruel twist of fate. We were at the breaking point.
It was literally now or never.
And then, right as the gardens were about to begin praying for miracles, the sky finally broke open and brought the rainfall that the region so desperately needed. Like magic, the tea bushes started to bloom, their buds began to develop and the whole of the region released a cathartic sigh of relief. This year's first flush had been saved.
But not without a price.
The effect of the drought could not be totally mitigated by the late season rainfall, and the result was a harvest that produced much smaller batches than what could usually be expected. This created a shortage that rippled through the tea world. Vendors and connoisseurs alike feverishly clamored over each other to try and secure the limited crates of what was already going to be a rare luxury. The competition in the market was fierce and the quantities were low.
But despite the chaos that the shortage produced on the open market, we were able to secure a highly sought after crate. And after intensive review, this years flush was well worth the effort.
The complex muscatel and nuttiness are on full display this year, with a highly aromatic infusion that changes in unexpected ways with every infusion. As the sweetness of the first infusion gradually fades and is presented with a more vegetal flavor upon the second, being rounded out with a pleasantly interesting mineral quality upon the third infusion. This is a tea that is truly an exquisite treat for anyone with the palate to appreciate this tea's wonderful complexity, and is especially valuable to anyone with a growing interest in the what tea has to offer. This is a truly fine example of type of quality one can expect from some of the world's finest tea gardens, and just like summer, this tea won't last forever!
We have limited quantities that we're proud to be able to bring to you, but hurry because supplies are running out fast!