Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Moment of Tea and Intrigue

As a child, I often dreamed of being an archaeologist. The idea of hacking my way through the jungle and discovering ruins of an ancient civilization seemed incredibly romantic. I've always been a history buff, to the point that each summer from the time I was 10 or so I'd pick an historical figure or civilization and research them. Cleopatra and ancient Egypt was an obsession that lasted a summer or two. The Roman Empire. The Mayans.

It should come as no surprise that "The Secret Garden" was and is one of my very favorite books. The discovery of something beautiful and precious being brought lovingly back to life is a point of fascination. So, it makes sense that Nudo Darjeeling is a bit of a new obsession for me.

Nurbong Tea Garden. Photo courtesy of Nudo Darjeeling
In a world where there is such a thing as counterfeit cheeses, extra-virgin olive oil and caviar, there is also such a thing as counterfeit Darjeeling. In one company's crusade to combat such, Nudo has come in and partnered with locals to "restore deserted tea gardens which were until now unsustainable, through its Adopt a Tea Garden program. Using biodynamic and organic farming practices, local farmers can now reopen those tea gardens, creating more jobs for the local tea pickers and growers and creating the opportunity for the younger generation to learn the skills that their families have practised for centuries."

It almost feels like a spy novel - young crusaders rally the local tea artisans to combat the greedy and corrupt tea mafia.

Okay, I don't know if there really is a tea mafia, but it could make a pretty cool story....

I was fortunate enough to receive four small tins of Nudo Darjeeling: First Flush, Second Flush, Monsoon and Golden. Don't know much about "flushes?" Don't worry, neither did I. So here's what I found on the About.com website (It's on the internet, so it must be true!):

First of all, "flush" refers to a growing season in Darjeeling. First Flush is typically from mid-March to May. Second Flush is typically from June to mid-August. Third Flush (Golden, in Nudo terms) from October to November.  There can also be "minor flushes" as well, and in this case, Nudo offers a Monsoon Flush between the 2nd and 3rd flush typically during the month of September.

It was rather fun exploring these flushes side by side (Darjeeling purists may shudder at the thought of tasting flushes that may not be from the most recent flush, but I'm enjoying the moment so I'm not at all concerned!)

First Flush:

Two things surprised me about the First Flush: 1. The sunny yellow liquid. I think of Darjeeling as being a strictly black tea, so I expected a more amber tone. 2. Grassiness! Green tea lovers, this may be a fun crossover flush for you. It had a lilt of fresh cut grass and an astringency that I associate more with Japanese green teas. Very intriguing. (And yes, Tea Setter, your lovely Tea Set tray strikes again. I love it!)

Second Flush:

This flush had a smoother flavor and more closely resembled the flavor profile I most often associate with commercial Darjeeling. With just a hint of nuttiness, I again detected a Japanese influence.

Monsoon Flush:

Note the dark amber tones, and it's probably no surprise that this was my favorite. In addition to the color, this had the most robust, serious character and could probably stand up very well to milk and sugar. I drank it too quickly to experiment with that option, though.

Golden Flush:

I also loved this flush, but in a different way. You'll notice the liquid is a little less intense but definitely leaning toward an orange brightness. By the way, the best word to describe this flush is, "bright." The color, the flavor, it has a brightness that the others don't. It also had notes of orange, which made me wonder if this particular flush came from the Sivitar Tea Garden, which is set among orange groves.

Kind of exciting to think I could be a part of the underground tea growers' army, discovering and adopting a tea garden that is being lovingly brought back to life, and supporting a region and a people who I respect and admire. And in return, I get the fruits of their labor: the tea from that garden. Perhaps I'll never uncover a lost civilization, but I can help revitalize a re-emerging one steeped in a rich and embattled history.

Whether for yourself or as a gift for the Tea Lover in your life (Isn't Valentine's Day approaching?), this is one of those rare gifts that truly does keep on giving.

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