I know I am a tea merchant selling Darjeeling Teas to my clients worldwide, but apart from being in the tea business, I am first and foremost a tea lover myself. Tea itself has been attached to my past, present and will be my future. Once a tea lover, always a tea lover. It’s an inner passion which follows like a shadow no matter where you go or how you live. It’s an ‘unavoidable marvelous addiction’ which is praised by thousands of tea lovers and only a tea lover can understand what is in stock here. This time, I would like to focus on a particular tea thing – “when to buy First Flush Darjeeling Tea?”
Many tea connoisseurs have asked me a question – “when is the perfect time to buy First Flush Darjeelings?” It seems an easy question to answer and you may get easy answers from some, but when it comes to Darjeeling Tea the answer may prove to be a complicated and lengthy one.
I know tea connoisseurs spend hundreds of dollars to get their favorite teas and sometimes it’s frustrating to get what is unexpected. It’s the same grade, same flush and from the same garden, but the taste is not what you thought it to be. You might probably think that you have drained down your money, and you have, if you have bought a tea produced at a wrong time.
In Darjeeling, if you take the case of First Flush teas, the production starts during the month of February (end). If all things go well (timely rainfall etc.) then you will get the best qualities during the peak months. If you get a tea produced between end of February and mid April, then count yourself lucky – you will be sipping the top quality tea.
Now the notorious polity of tea and tea merchants start to play their part in the drama. As soon as mid-April hits the tea season some vendors over crowd the tea gardens to get their share – why? Because of the pricing factor – it will be at its minimum – why? The quality will go down.
Why will the tea quality go down?
After giving 4-5 flushes (here it means bearing new shoots – two blooming tea balls leaves and a bud), the tea bushes need some rest in order to prepare for the next big tea season – Second Flush. During this period a particular green leaves on the tea bushes are in abundance – locally known as “Banji (Banjee) Patta”. The word “Banji” is pronounced as “baa-ji” by the locals and also the tea garden people – its a Nepalese word. Its simply the new shoots (two leaves and a bud), but the bud would rather be missing and only the two leaves would be prominent – a banji shoot. These leaves are not known to give good quality teas as the initial shoots, and so does it degrade the quality. When produced, the grades are the same; just the leaves used are different. Yes, some high end teas which specifically require ‘two leaves and a bud’ are not produced during this period. The whole banji period roughly lasts for about 15 – 30 days and the ‘banji time’ differs by marginal number of days from a low altitude tea garden to a higher one. Altitude creates a slight difference in the Banji period. Hope you get some idea now.
Vendors sell the tea with the same grade name which is authentic, but the pricing isn’t. Some sell it at the initial pricing of teas available during early production period. So if you purchase this Banji produce, then you would have probably wasted your money trying to procure your favorite brew.
How to know that a vendor is not selling a Banji produce?
It’s a really hard question to answer, but will try my best. If you are a serious tea lover, then it is worthwhile to keep track of your vendor’s new tea’s proclamation date. If a vendor announces arrival of new teas during the month of February to mid April then your vendor has invested a lot in procuring the best teas – you should go for it provided the vendor is authentic and trust worthy. If a vendor says, new teas will be arriving during the end of April then your vendor is probably waiting for the prices to go down and this would definitely be a banji produce.