Saturday, June 6, 2009

REVIEW: Thunderbolt Tea, 2009 Arya SFTGFOP1

When I drink a Darjeeling that is produced like Thunderbolt Tea's 2009 Arya Estate SFTGFOP1, I'm very aware that this tea has been anxiously awaited all year by people all over the globe, because the Spring flush in Darjeeling, India is unique. These teas comprise perhaps 2% of the entire India tea crop, and are typically handcrafted, specially produced teas.

These are not intended to taste the same from year to year, season to season, as "commodity" teas are. Yes, it is quite a skill to blend, say, a Tetley tea to taste exactly the same with every one of the millions upon millions of cups drunk every year. Instead, this tea is special. Each estate, each season, even each invoice-- the batches the teas are sold in, when they appear in the Darjeeling market-- is unique. It's amazing, and even sometimes a little sad, because you realize this exquisite thing you're drinking, once drunk, will be gone forever, and will never be exactly reproduced. There are characteristics that most great Darjeelings follow-- an ascerbic, very bright tone; a floral quality, a crystal-clear cup.

Now, that being said, I've had Arya estate Darjeelings before. Second flush, to be exact. Exquisite. The Arya estate has just about the highest standards for tea production, and they do make an attempt to follow organic farming.

This year was a bit difficult for the Darjeeling farmers, because there was a drought. When we in the Midwest of the U.S. have a drought, it's awful for the farmers, and can cause a serious drop of income for the region, and it might drive up the costs of, say, soybeans or corn. But the commoditized corn is produced elsewhere, and it will taste about the same. (I do not speak of specialized sweet corn, which can be quite special indeed.) But if the Darjeeling first-flush harvest flush were to fail, that's it. There is nothing that can replace it.

Anyway, in Darjeeling this year, there was serious concern that 2009 might not really have a first flush, because the drought was so rough. But at last, the rains came through, and there was a complete, if somewhat constricted, harvest. This means stocks are a bit low already, and many of these teas will already be purchased and gone by the time anyone reads this review.


Appearance of the cup: Rich, crystal, amber-gold

Olive green leaves, cut appearance. Very light aroma-- slightly floral, not very pungent.

  • Delightful, dry mouthfeel, bright berrylike flavor, with a full dark note
  • Honey sweetness, which remains in the lingering aftertaste
  • Light and airy, very pleasant
  • The aroma is rather faint.

The tea packs a kick on second cup, which as I've said before, is the "sweet spot" in any pot. The brightness is such a serious part of this tea! Smooth, even though there is this sharp quality. I am noting a brightly berry-like flavor in the high notes.

Still a lovely golden-amber color, though not as deep. The tea has lost a bit of its oomph, though, which is mostly manifesting in less of that sharp brightness. There is a more mellow, melon-like fruit note, and there is a buttery nut flavor-- a bit like the ghee I sometimes use to cook, though more like a faint echo of the flavor, without any heaviness. Very light, very transparent flavor. The tea is by far the best when drunk fairly hot, as it seems to lose something as it cools.

Web site:


Dry Leaves:
Arya SFTGFOP1 is amongst the first invoices from Arya Tea Estate. As is every Darjeeling First Flush tea, the dry leaves bear a greenish appearance with some amount of silver tips. Has a sweet, buttery and honey fragrance which is in turn nutty and flowery in nature.

Infused Leaves:
The infused leaves are green which appears fresh and raw. Has a sweet - resembling honey - a hint of fresh grassy and minty characteristics.

Most of Darjeeling First Flush teas have a weak cup that appears quite translucent in nature, but highly aromatic. This does not differ from the above statement. The cup is light and bright with some amount of astringency (this characteristic strengthens with longer steeping time, which is the case with all First Flush teas). It is highly flowery and nutty in its characteristics which is buttery and almondy. Has a sweet aftertaste.


Eric said...

Nice review. I still have a little bit of Arya's 2008 first flush left over (reviewed that one on my blog). It really is one of the best teas I've ever tasted. I now save it for special occasions.