Rob is rambling and unfocused today, so my apologies in advance. He’s also referring to himself in the third person, which is a tad alarming. Might have something to do with staying up late last night to watch the Yankee game. Unfortunately, my Mets aren’t in the post-season, so I’m stuck watch my wife’s and my son’s team in the playoffs. Oh, right, we’re supposed to be talking about tea…
Makaibari Second Flush is a classic Darjeeling from one of the oldest tea estates in Darjeeling and perhaps the world. Makaibari (I’ve heard it generally pronounced Mock EYE Bahri) also has the distinction of being an organic and biodynamic estate and is perhaps the last major Darjeeling plantation still under private family ownership. This tea estate, however, is bigger than 1,700 acres, so I’d hardly call this an artisanal tea. More at http://www.makaibari.com/, including a clip from a documentary about Makaibari’s egomaniacal owner, Rajah Banerjee. An article about traveling to the Makaibari estate can also be found at http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/10/14/travel/14Tea.html?pagewanted=all
This particular batch of tea was purchased from Ito En’s Madison Avenue store in NYC, but, strangely, Makaibari isn’t listed on Ito En’s website for online purchase. That said, a lot of online purveyors carry this tea, so it shouldn’t be hard to find.
Ito En didn’t list the pekoe grade for this tea, but at a modestly priced $3.50 an ounce it can’t be a particularly high grade. (Guessing it’s like a GFOP or FOP.) But don’t sweat the grade, however. Lower grades of good harvests are still really good teas. And this is a really good tea. It’s got that classic Darjeeling brightness, although, alas, it lacks that strong delicious peach undertone that you find in some Darjeelings.
There is something very cool about buying single-estate teas, the way you would buy a wine. For one, you really know where your tea comes from. In fact, if you really want to geek out, you can see an interactive map of Darjeeling’s tea estates at http://www.darjeelingtea.com/files/teagardens.asp
The down side of buying single-estate teas, as opposed to blended regional teas, is that the product can vary greatly from year to year, just like a wine. But that makes buying single-estate teas even more interesting, I think.
Although Darjeelings are unmistakably Indian, I believe most of the Darjeeling estates use the smaller-leaved Chinese varietal tea plants, which are apparently hardier than Assamicas and fare better in the relatively high altitude of the region. (The exception, I think, is the Margaret’s Hope estate, which predominately uses Assamicas to give their teas a unique taste among their competitors, although they still taste like Darjeelings to me.)
While first-flush Darjeelings require short steeping times, this second-flush tea can steep for nearly five minutes before it goes tannic on you. While some people will put milk in a second-flush Darjeeling, I really don’t think it’s full-bodied enough to stand up to cow juice or soy milk or Rice Dream or whatever is creaming your drink. Not really sure the brightness of the tea really goes with milk anyway, the way a malty tea, such as an Assam or Yunnan, would.
Sorry for the ramble. Probably could have summed up the whole thing in about seven words: It’s a good tea. Have a cup.