Wednesday, April 1, 2009

REVIEW: Castleton Darjeeling Vintage FTGFOP, Lavender Lounge Tea

As part of the TEA SWAP, Evelyn sent me:


First off, I looked the specific tea up on the Lavender Lounge Web site. Though they do show a Darjeeling online, it is not this specific one. This means, of course, that if you order from Lavender Lounge, you may wish to speak to the proprietor to find if they have any special reserves and so on, which aren't mentioned on the Web. Note to self! The tea is described as "vintage," but I don't know what vintage year it comes from.

So I looked Castleton Darjeeling up online, and found this:

It's a great little mini-review, because it tells you a little bit about where the tea comes from. And makes me want to visit there! The Notting Hill web site says:


Kurseong, in Darjeeling, is a quiet, unassuming town, much loved by the solitude seeker. On the Darjeeling Toy Train route, this charming little town is affectionately called Land of the White Orchid. And among the lush tea plantations that lie across these hills is the Castleton Tea Estate.With a planted area of over 170 hectars, Castleton produces 30,545 kgs of tea. As one of the top producers in Darjeeling, Castleton recently surpassed its own previous world records by fetching Rs. 15,000 (around US $360) per kg. (2.2 lbs.).

Considered the most prestigious of all black teas, this second flush Darjeeling from Castleton produces a much more complex cup than its first flush varieties. With a bright liquor, full rounded flavour, and the distinctive "Muscatel" character, this is sure to become one of your favorite Darjeelings.


Makes you want to go there, doesn't it? Thank you, Notting Hill, for the information.

On to my review.

Two teaspoons tea in my cast-iron Tetsubin, with just-shy-of-boiling water, enough for 2 cups. Steeped three minutes and poured.

Typically, I use a strainer apparatus that goes into the pot, and I can lift out at exactly the right moment. Here, because the volume of water is smaller than my usual, I just floated the leaves in the pot and poured out through strainer. NOTE TO SELF: Don't do it this way again. The leaves clogged up the spout, and it took quite some time to pour out. This meant that the tea probably oversteeped just a little bit.

Holding a fussy baby in one arm, making tea while my wife sits at the computer working on adapting Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" for our little boy's school. Sitting surrounded by a pile of teas, trying to decide where to start. Typing my notes one-handed during the tasting, and then coming back later to fill out my notes. Tea paired with Bastoncini cookies, from the Balocco company. They're described as "Gustosi e Fragranti," which means they are food that is smelly, apparently. (Why didn't I take Italian in school? Because it was not offered.) Lemony cookies with the tea. My wife dipped, but I did not.

The leaves in the cup unfurled into fairly large size, with a greenish-brown color and broken leaves. I couldn't find any stems. I loved the scent of the leaves. My wife shared the pot with me, and she described the leaves' aroma as earth. I will describe it as Cigarette Rose. This sounds horrible, but it's not: it's a very nice tobacco scent, with a sweetness... like if you could create a rose hybrid with a scent of cigarette ash. Hm, I wonder why no one has done that already.

The liquor was a very robust brown color. This is pretty obviously a second flush tea, which explains the color and flavor. The liquor had no discernible scent, so the only way my nose was engaged with the tea was through the leaves.

The flavor was very allusive-- hard for me to describe. It's a very definite, very strong flavor, but one I am not familiar with, so I'm groping for a description. It was a tiny bit flowery, with a hint of a medicinal edge. Camphor perhaps, but not really as grapey (that muscatel thing all the kids go on about nowadays) as I am used to with a Darjeeling. It a very complex tea that I would love to get to know more. Curses, for letting my wife have the second cup in the pot. (She declared it, "good." But she's also focused on preparing a Shakespeare play for production in our son's school, so I will overlook her lack of involvement just this once.)

The first moments of drinking, though, were about the mouth-feel: it's a very astringent, dry tea. And even with some sugar in the cup, the tea had very little sweetness, but rather this dryness. Like a white wine, perhaps-- quite dry, just a bit bitter, fairly complex.


The Web description above said this tea could be steeped a second time, which I did. To my enormous surprise, the second cup was nearly as flavorful as the first, but only a bit more delicate, allowing me to taste the undercurrents of the tea even better. Very robust! The astringency was gone, and now was mostly about that surprisingly complex flavor-- that I still have trouble describing. I wonder if any of my other Indian teas would survive a second steeping? I know Oolongs and Pu-erhs can, but Darjeelings? Surprising.

This is a first-rate tea, and I would LOVE to go to the Castleton Estate and sit over a pot there to experience it firsthand. I am obviously going to have to buy more of this vintage, so that I can get to know it better. It's like getting a kiss on a first date, which makes me think I'll be coming back for more.