North Tukbar Estate tea from Thunderbolt (Thank you, Benoy).
What most people in the U.S. do not realize is that, like watermelon and pumpkins, teas also are seasonal. And taking advantage of the seasons is like eating a fresh ear of corn right off the cob, which was picked yesterday, as compared to popping open a can off the shelf, which has been sitting there for who knows how long.
A subtle Darjeeling first flush is picked in the Spring. Now, when this tea is plucked and shipped quickly, it can be vibrant, intense, delicate, and bright. But on the other hand, a first flush that sits around for a while (if not properly fired, or if it gets around moisture), it may become... indifferent. Not worth drinking.
So I'm happy that this season, I've been drinking '09 Spring Darjeelings in the Spring of '09.
Thunderbolt Tea has quite an assortment of '09 Darjeelings available, and they're seasonal. Benoy travels Darjeeling, tasting hundreds of teas to find the ones he believes to be the best value. He chose the '09 North Tukvar first-flush Darjeeling as a great buy. And at under $10 for 100g, let's see if he's right.
The Thunderbolt Tea Web site says:
NORTH TUKVAR SFTGFOP1 - FIRST FLUSH TEA (2009)Dry Leaves:
Well twisted dry leaves with fair amount of buds. The leaves are rather tiny with a blend of green and black leaves. It is highly floral and fruity.
The infused leaves or wet leaves are rather tiny resembling the china leaf grade rather than the tagged "SFTGFOP1". It is sweet smelling with buttery notes.
The cup seems a little darker or has some body because of the leaf size. The cup is bright with lovely fruity and floral notes and has a taste that is sweet and fruity. Has astringency as others do. Its a good First Flush Darjeeling Tea which is made affordable for all.
A heaping teaspoon per 8 oz. cup of water. Culligan reverse-osmosis water brought to a boil then allowed to cool to perhaps 90C. I've tried this at a couple different steeping lengths, from 1.5 to 3 minutes.
The appearance of the leaf is as described above. When steeped, they do not have a very attractive aroma-- like spent tobacco, though a bit spicy, like a Yunnan.
This is a gold-amber color cup, with no hint of green to it. The cup does not have an enormous "nose" to it, though. The flavor: traditional, bright, Darjeeling sharpness. In the mouth, there is a slightly dry feeling at the back of the tongue. The mouthfeel is somewhat lacking, and I can't detect much texture or body. The flavor is on the fruity side, rather than the floral side, but with a bright astringency that balances the heavier fruit notes. Very consistent taste profile, which remains much the same throughout the tasting-- it doesn't evolve very much or reveal new flavor notes as it goes into the aftertaste. Nicely sweet, not bitter at all. There's a nice berries-and-tobacco aftertaste, which I find particularly enjoyable.
SOME STEEPING ADVICE
To get the most out of this tea, I would go a bit on the strong side, because the tea itself is quite light. Because this is a delicate first-flush Darjeeling, you don't necessarily want to steep this a full 3 minutes (1.5 to 2 min). So to get a satisfying strength, I steeped about 1.5 teaspoons per cup, though going up to 2 tsp per cup would also work. Obviously, this makes the tea's cost-per-unit go up quite a bit, but it's still by far the most affordable '09 first-flush Darjeeling among Thunderbolt's offerings.
If you wish to visit Tukvar Estate, DarjeelingTaxis.com says this:
Tukvar Tea estate is about 7km from Darjeeling town. Here you will see the colourful tea –workers who still pluck the leaves by hand in the traditional way against the spectacular backdrop of the tea plantations & the mountains. You will also be able to see the manufacturing process (subject to opening hours) and sample some of the garden’s produce.