Annnd… We’re back. A couple of weeks ago we talked about the climate and some of the growing conditions the tea plant needs to thrive and produce delicious tasting tea. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, check it out here. This week we are going to talk a little bit more about the link between taste and the region a tea is grown in.
To start, we’re going to steal a word from the wine industry. Long ago, French wine makers realized that wines grown in different regions each had their own unique taste. So they started talking about “Terroir” (pronounced “ter’wär”, rhymes with “rare-car”.) At its heart terroir basically refers to a sense of earth or a sense of place that comes from a well grown agricultural product. Many factors combine when a tea is being grown to impart a specific terroir. Minerals present in the soil, amount of rainfall received, the height at which the tea plant is grown, age of the tea plant, and temperate during the growing season all combine to influence the way a tea tastes.
To give you an idea of how this all works out and why we’re writing about it, we’ll take the rest of this post to talk a little about two specific regions. Each one produces tea that taste amazingly unique when compared to tea grown in the other. Both teas are incredible in their own right.
Darjeeling Tea Plantation
The first one we’re going to talk about is Darjeeling. Darjeeling is both the name of a town and a state in India located in the Indian Himalayas; sandwiched between Nepal on the West, Bhutan on the east, and China to the north. The town and most of the tea farms surrounding it are located at over 6,000 feet. With an average of over 80 inches of rain a year, the tea plants get plenty of water. Mountainside tea fields and rocky soil with good drainage mean that there is plenty of water around, but the plants have to work for it. Two of the challenges presented to tea plants growing in Darjeeling are the high altitude growing conditions and the rocky soil that makes it tough for roots to grow. All of this “stress” on the tea plant leads to an extremely interesting cup of tea. Black teas produced in Darjeeling are often called the champagne of tea. A brewed cup of Darjeeling tea tends to be light in color and flavor. These teas are most commonly described with the words “floral” and “grape” (think of the sweet and tangy flavor of a slightly firm grape and you’re approaching the flavor of a good Darjeeling).
Assam, India is located just about a days drive to the east of Darjeeling – but the tea produced in Assam possess vastly different qualities than the tea produced in Darjeeling. This tea growing region is located in a valley where nearly 120 inches of rain falls each year. Additionally the temperature rarely drops below 70°, even during the winter. I have heard one tea expert call the tea plants in Assam “lazy.” Growing on level fields, with abundant rainfall, and stable and warm temperatures, it is easy to see why a tea plant could be called lazy. Clearly, tea produced here is going to taste hugely different from tea produced in Darjeeling where the plant has to “work” for every little bit of water it gets, must cling to the side of a mountain, and deals with much wider swings in temperature. Assam teas are known for being “British,” This means that they can stand up to having a little milk and sugar added. Teas grown in Assam are also commonly described as being malty, having notes of spice, and sometimes even notes of tobacco.
Tea Plantation in Assam
These teas that are grown just hours away from each other are incredibly different. Now imagine the variety of flavors that can be found when examining teas grown in China, Japan, Sri Lanka, or unexpected tea growing regions like Australia and Africa!
“Darjeeling Tea Plantation, India” by Marc Shandro – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Tea plantation in Sonitpur district of Assam, India” by Amlan Basumatari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons