I’m a coffee zealot. Got the Capresso CoffeeTEC, the French press, the Ethiopian Harrar varietal. Tea? That’s the flaky stuff that comes in a pouch with a string from a box. It’s good for colds. Sometimes a pot of it comes covered with one of those cute quilted “cozies.”
Well, I’ve just learned that there’s nothing cute—or cozy—about producing great tea. And in a few weeks, some of the world’s best becomes available. In the rugged mountains of India’s Darjeeling district, the spring rains are ending and the camellia sinensis plant has begun its first of four annual growths. Ghurka tribeswomen, baskets lashed to their backs, pluck the tender leaves and buds that yield a black (fermented) tea brew prized for its delicate floral scent, brisk astringency, and greenish hue. This first growth, or “first flush,” ends mid-April and, like fine wine, the production yield is low, the quality control high, and the result coveted.
Anupa Mueller knows this well. Schooled in Darjeeling, with family ties to its venerable Fair-Trade Makaibari tea plantation, she owns a biodynamic tea import company and Tarrytown’s Silver Tips Tearoom (3 N Broadway 914-332-8515). Her shop offers more than 150 types of tea, but Darjeeling is closest to her heart. “The first flush is delicate and refreshing, with a brightness that perks me up,” she says. Its floral notes require no sugar, and milk, she cautions, is verboten, because “first-flush Darjeeling is much too light.”
When purchasing the tea, look for 100-percent Darjeeling single-estate labeling and, as with all tea, store it away from heat and light. Mueller says its delicate pleasures can be enjoyed any time of day, so I’m planning an afternoon drive over to Tarrytown. My latte can wait.
Steeping “First-Flush” Darjeeling
Courtesy of Anupa Mueller, Silver Tips Tearoom
Use 1 scant teaspoon of tea leaves per 8-ounce cup. Bring fresh, cold tap water to first boil (never microwave!) and immediately pour over leaves. Steep 3 minutes.