While our carefully sourced Assam is a breakfast favourite at The Milestone Hotel & Residences, our fine Darjeeling is a popular choice for those who prefer to drink their tea black. Known as the Champagne of teas, our first flush, specially sourced by PMD Tea, is characterised by the pale colour, delicate floral aroma and muscatel flavour that this strain of tea is cherished for. Here, we look at why it’s such a precious variety, and what makes the best Darjeeling tea.

Scenic origins

The misty hills at the foot of the Himalayas in West Bengal are prime tea country. These peaks are patchworked with verdant plantations, making this a strikingly fragrant and picturesque part of the world. However, when Archibald Campbell arrived as a surgeon with the Indian Medical Service in 1939, it was blanketed in the jungle. The British civil servant brought with him a clutch of seeds from the Chinese tea plant Camellia sinensis and, recognising the promise of the area’s lofty altitudes and temperate climate, experimented with planting a few. The crop flourished and Darjeeling’s destiny as one of India’s most lucrative tea producers was sealed.

The Darjeeling watermark

The district of Darjeeling comprises lush, hilly areas, including the tea-growing districts of Sadar, Kalimpong and Kurseong. Tea must be sourced from these areas to be counted as Darjeeling. The beverage’s distinct aroma and taste are drawn from the mineral-rich, altitudinous slopes upon which it grows, and it’s these unique characteristics that make this tea impossible to clone. However, there has been no shortage of attempts. Thanks to a fiercely competitive global market, fake Darjeeling is at large. The so-called ‘Darjeeling’ tea sold around the world is estimated at four times the amount of what’s actually harvested in the area. To mark the genuine product, an official protected designation of origin symbol is stamped on authentic Darjeeling teas.

First, second or autumnal flush?

The best Darjeeling tea is undoubtedly first flush, plucked by hand in spring following the rains. It’s defined by a delicate colour, fine palate and light aroma. Tea that’s picked in the warmer weather develops a more robust flavour, making second flush Darjeeling. Harvested in June, its hue is stronger, its taste fuller, its nose sharper. As we move into autumnal flush, the tea develops a deep, warm colour with a much feistier scent and flavour. There are also white and oolong varieties of Darjeeling, which are much lighter than the black varieties.

The best tea in Darjeeling

Altitude is everything when it comes to Darjeeling’s unique subtle flavour. Fortunately, estates in the area are all relatively high up. Established three decades after Campbell arrived with his Camellia seeds in the Himalayan foothills, the family-run Okayti Tea Estate is the oldest tea factory in the region. Its plants are cultivated at no less than 4,000ft, and this altitude, coupled with the soil’s unique minerality, is behind the crop’s fine taste. It’s this reason PMD Tea has selected it to serve to our guests at The Milestone.