Monday, July 20, 2009

REVIEW: Thunderbolt Tea, Giddapahar China Wiry Tippy, 2009

Today I'm drinking Thunderbolt Tea's Darjeeling Giddapahar tea estate Darjeeling. It is the 2009 vintage, China varietal, and it is labeled, "Wiry Tippy."

Before you even read my review of this great tea, I urge you to read MattCha's blog, where he actually went to the Giddapahar Estate and met with Mr. Lochan himself. Great pictures and information about what the conditions are like where this tea is harvested and manufactured.

Matt points us to the Lochan Web site, which reads as follows:

Literally meaning the Eagles Craig, Giddapahar is situated on a jagged, rock-faced mountain just a short drive from Kurseong, a thriving little hill station situated at 4864 feet above sea level. The best way to get to Giddapahar tea gardens is to get to Kurseong on the toy train that runs regularly from the New Jalpaiguri station in the plains.

The tea from Giddapahar Estate is delicate owing to the lower temperatures and being covered by mist for much of the year forcing the bushes to grow slowly producing a fine bouquet with great aromatic quality and delicate floral nose.

These are lovely, olive green to dark green in color, with quite a lot of stem along with the rather full leaves. Steeped, they have a lovely aroma, which reminds me of pleasantly decomposed undergrowth in a forest, or perhaps the richness of a grape arbor in autumn.

A very nicely amber-gold, flawlessly transparent.

As Lochan described it, this tea is very delicate. And I agree: It's crisp, very clean, and not overwhelmingly aromatic. Really, to my mouth, this is a flawless cup of Darjeeling. The perfect balance of astringency and sweetness, without even a trace of bitterness. The flavor develops in my mouth as I drink, and the sensation moves from the tip of my tongue back into my throat and nose. I'd describe it as herbaceous, rather than floral-- like aromatic kitchen herbs, tarragon, or chervil, or bee balm. Sweet, light, and complex. I'm tempted to say it is slightly fruity, because of the depth of flavor, but that would mislead you to think it's overly sweet or tart, which it ceretainly is not. The Giddapahar Darjeeling is really quite sophisticated and delicate. I have read some characterize this as being nutty in flavor (with chestnut predominant), and I'm willing to take that description. It definitely has this richness to the flavor, in spite of its delicacy, and a mouthfeel at once slightly dry and yet smooth and creamy.

This is a tea I really have grown to love, and I'm very grateful for the opportunity (Thank you, Thunderbolt Tea and TeaViews) to have been able to sample it. Remind me to put in my order for next year's 2010 first flush when it becomes available.

At this writing (July 2009), Darjeeling region has been rocked by strikes by the tea farmers, because the Gorkha ethnic group want their own state within the nation of India, which they believe would help the farmers' living conditions. The Independent has the following article, by Andrew Buncombe,which I quote here:

At the Happy Valley estate, where large painted signs boast of providing organic tea to Harrods, it was unnaturally quiet. Usually at this time of year – midway through the second flush, or crop – these steep hillsides of densely planted bushes would be filled with women plucking the leaves and dropping them into woven baskets on their backs.

Instead, they sit inside their small, sheet-metal shacks, idling away the damp afternoon.

Across the Darjeeling hills, life has come to a standstill. An indefinite strike, or "bandh", called last week by activists demanding a separate state, has closed down schools, roads, businesses, hotels and – crucially – the tea estates. As a result, the day labourers who earn just 53 rupees (66p) a day picking tea to be sold to well-heeled customers in London's Knightsbridge, are currently getting nothing.

Buncombe goes on to describe how Gorkhas (a people group found in Nepal and northern India) are demanding a separate state, largely because, since independence, the West Bengal state government has ignored their needs.

Indeed, tourism in Darjeeling region has declined because of infrastructure decline. The article concludes, thus:

One evening last week, on the veranda outside the Planters' Club – another relic of the colonial era, where the pelts of leopards shot long ago still hang from the wall – members sat looking out across the valley.

There was no tea to be had, as the strike had shut down the restaurant and bar. The members recalled how Darjeeling was once famed for its sanatorium, and how the roads were washed so regularly that British "ladies" could walk in their gowns along the town's famous Mall without fear of dirtying their clothes. These days, the town's basic hospital struggles to manage, and many of the roads are filthy. "Darjeeling has been in decline since the 1960s. The area has been badly neglected," said Amargit Dhir, a retired estate manager. "There is no other option but to revolt. This is the start of revolution."

I sincerely hope this is resolved quickly, to the benefit of all the people involved. Darjeeling tea is not merely a commodity tea, which are designed to be mixed with teas from another region for teabag use. Each year's Darjeeling harvest is its own unique vintage, and each estate has its own terroir that cannot be reproduced elsewhere. If the strikes cause this or next year's Darjeeling harvest to be lost, those unique, vintage teas are lost forever and cannot be replaced.

Wonderful picture of the Darjeeling Toy Train provided by Old Mount Hermon Students' Association.


Anonymous said...

When I first heard of the Darjeeling strikes and efforts at an independent state I was skeptical. So many revolutions have been staged on the promise of better conditions but have failed to deliver. However, this makes me reconsider. Perhaps the people could restore Darjeeling to its former glory. --Jason

Wojciech Bońkowski said...

Interesting to see another impression of Giddapahar being "delicate".
I was just brewing a 2009 Second Flush (from Lochan Tea) the other day and it's the opposite of delicate. Dark, tannic, hefty. I wonder if it's just a SF thing.
Was your sample a First Flush?
Best, Nerval

Unknown said...

Ah, yes! I don't know why I forgot to label it a first flush, but indeed, it was. I haven't had the second flush of the Giddapahar estate yet, so I can't compare the two seasons.

I'll correct the entry to reflect that this is a first flush. And thank you for reading! I'm honored that you've come.

Unknown said...

Jason: I've not followed the progress of past strikes in Darjeeling. And, of course, any true revolution is going to have many unintended consequences. I'm sure the people of Darjeeling never imagined that after Independence, they would be worse off because the new government would give them short shrift. Who knows what would happen if the Gorkhas receive their own state? Either way, I hope they work it out quickly.