This year we’re delighted to announce the return of Bungalow – our blend of First and Second Flush Darjeeling – as a seasonal offering. Fitting as the Champagne of teas, once we sell through this vintage of fresh teas we’ll wait for next harvest to indulge once more. Giving it its shining moment as a seasonal offering allows us to pick the crème de la crème of teas and highlight them in their prime. We’ll continue to offer First Flush Darjeeling and Second Flush Darjeeling throughout the year, as long as the fresh batch lasts. This year you’ll also find Darjeeling in our Founder’s Blend which is an homage to Steven Smith himself, who loved Darjeeling more than any other tea in the world.
Now here is the story behind how we chose and brought these amazing teas to Portland.
Darjeeling production in 2021 was a classic case of hurry up and wait. Hurry up with the caretaking of the gardens, then wait for the dry conditions to cease so the First Flush would emerge. Hurry up and pick before unseasonable snow in April, then wait patiently for a delayed Second Flush. Hurry up and airfreight the finished teas halfway around the world, then wait to share these gems with our customers. Thankfully the wait is now over.
First Flush, which often begins in mid-March, didn’t see signs of life until the end of the month, due to the uncharacteristically dry conditions leading up to the start of the season. The harvest was then separated into two distinct plucking periods, split by snow in April. We ended up choosing several lots of the earlier plucking and paid a significant increase in price to get them. The leaves were a darker color than in a typical year, although the flavor was in character and quite lovely; bright, floral, and poignantly brisk in mouthfeel. That choice proved fortuitous in hindsight as the earlier teas were markedly better compared to the later teas and overall production was also drastically reduced, with gardens wrapping up harvest anywhere between 30-75% crop loss compared to the average year.
Following in its predecessor’s footsteps, Second Flush harvest got off to a late start as well. Typically beginning in mid-to-late May, we didn’t see our first samples arrive until the second week of June. The weather was creating a similar phenomenon as First Flush – high quality, but low crop yields. Pricing for Second Flush spiked in the same ways First Flush did and it ended up becoming a mad dash to secure the best teas we could find. The best teas we could find happened to be rather lovely, if we do say so ourselves. They elicit the same fond memories that our tea department has of tasting teas in Darjeeling – caramel rich, lively with apricot fruit, and begging for a second cup.
Unlike previous years before the global pandemic, the confluence of crisis in both health and climate created significant challenges for purchasing both Flushes. Add to that the skyrocketing shipping rates due to increased consumer demand and the 2021 First and Second Flush Darjeeling season shaped up to be one of the most difficult in recent memory.
Photo courtesy of Broadleaf
The silver lining to this challenging year in Darjeeling was that we found beautiful teas and were able to support our partners in India, not only in our tea buying, but also in our ongoing partnership with Broadleaf and in a new partnership with Give India. Broadleaf is a Darjeeling-focused organization that helps bring health education and supplies to the school-aged children of Darjeeling’s tea workers. This year we also worked with Broadleaf to supply masks for the entire work force of a tea garden, to help keep the workers healthy and safe. Give India provided a larger scope of COVID support for India during the pandemic, with aid ranging from supplying oxygen tanks, to delivering food, to providing support for families of the deceased. We hope to continue this financial support, in conjunction with the generous support of our customers, bringing much needed aid to this country we hold so dear.