Today, I took possession of a medium sized box from India.
It contained lots of little nicely labeled bags full with tea leaves.
One of my yearly delights that few understand is the arrival of the new harvest Darjeeling, the main ones being the First Flush (March) and the Second Flush (June). Here we are looking at teas from a dozen or so tea gardens. This is to the tea drinker what vineyards are to the wine drinker. And similar to wine, teas vary in quality and quantity from year to year.
Even though the British are responsible for stealing seeds of tea plants from China and planting them in India, most of my friends from England have a hard time recognizing the dried leaves as tea. Most of them are used to the dust that is now cheaply produced in Africa. Already smelling the dry leaves is wonderful.
Then, of course, there is the science of steeping tea properly. Temperature is important; for good Darjeeling the water should be boiling or near boiling. More difficult is the choice of the right water. The tap water in most places I have lived completely ruins the tea. Filtering often helps somewhat, but bottled water is better, and finding the right one is not easy. Luckily, the local tap water in Bloomington is excellent for tea (except when a summer draught causes it to taste muddy). For reasons I haven’t been able to find out, tea doesn’t get bitter here.
This is limestone country, and the tap water is surface water from artificial reservoirs.
Finally, it is essential to give the leaves some space to expand. After all these preparations, I am rewarded with several delightful cups. Strange that most people are clueless about all this.