Featured Steepings

Lab Report: 2024 Darjeeling and Mao Feng Samples

May 29, 2024
Woman in Darjeeling, India with a basket on her back plucking tea in a sprawling tea garden.

Darjeeling, India

Springtime marks a shift in the tea lab at Smith with fresh incoming teas from China and India. For months, tea bushes have remained dormant and untouched, and with spring comes new bud growth. At the first signs of new growth, teas are harvested and processed, landing on our tables as early as the last weeks of March. Two teas we look forward to seeing this time every year is First Flush Darjeeling from the high mountains of India and Mao Feng green tea from China’s Zhejiang province. With a range of unique characteristics between them, both bring the freshness of the season we await all year long.

Donovan Eilert, teamaker, straining a cup of Darjeeling tea on a table crowded with sample cups.

Donovan Eilert, Tea and Innovation Lead, said the following when asked about the lab’s First Flush Darjeeling selection: “Wowzah!” He elaborated, “When I taste this tea my taste buds sing a beautiful song. It reminds me of Beyonce’s cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene.’ It just gets me excited.” It may be hard to believe, but no less true, that Donovan danced a jig while speaking to the unique flavors and textures of First Flush Darjeeling. 

Close up of a hand holding the two leaves and a bud plucked from a tea bush.

A “flush” refers to the harvest, with first flush marking the beginning of tea season. First Flush Darjeeling teas are prized as the first teas of the year to be plucked, and with their region-specific designation, they’ve earned the title of the “Champagne of Teas.” Darjeeling accounts for a mere 1% of global tea production yet carries with it the reputation for quality that rivals the best teas produced anywhere in the world.

Three teamakers tasting Darjeeling teas in the Smith Teamaker lab.

While tasting our First Flush Darjeeling samples, we look for the tea that best highlights the region’s beloved qualities of muscatel grape, astringency, sweetness and beautiful florals. There is a freshness to First Flush Darjeeling that we crave every spring, and this year we had the unique experience of falling in love with the first harvest from Marybong estate. Sara Kaufman, Product and Innovation Manager, put it well: “Every few years we prefer the very first plucking of Darjeeling and every other few years we are actually able to purchase one.” This special tea offers all the wonderful qualities of First Flush Darjeeling and highlights the beginning of the tea harvesting season.

Tin of Darjeeling First Flush Teamaker's Choice on a silver plate with loose tea surrounding.

The history of Marybong Tea Estate is over one-hundred years old. In his book about Darjeeling, Jeff Koehler notes its 1870’s origin, having been a wedding gift to Mary, the daughter of a neighboring tea estate’s owner. The estate was then named Marybong, translating to “Mary’s place” in the native language of the region, Lepcha. We are excited to have come across this beautiful tea from the Marybong estate and to bring a taste of “Mary’s place” to Darjeeling loyalists and newcomers alike. 

Loose Mao Feng green tea in a white ceramic pinch pot.

We also had the pleasure of tasting samples of Mao Feng from Zhejiang, a southeastern province in China. Mao Feng, also known as Spring Greens in our lineup, is a head turner! Nothing quite speaks to fresh, vegetal teas like this spring harvested Mao Feng. Best enjoyed fresh, we don’t let this one sit too long before steeping! The grassy, crisp sweetness in Mao Feng helps inaugurate the spring season. Anthony, the Lab Assistant, says, “Fresh Mao Feng is wonderful enough trip someone into falling in love with green tea.”