Why do I love this tea? (Seriously...I hope someone who really knows tea will tell me!)

One of these days I’ll go to a proper tea tasting to learn these things, but in the meantime, I’m hoping a fellow Steepster can maybe explain/identify what it is about a particular tea I love (and perhaps suggest something else I might love based on it).

I’ll start with this one: Darjeeling Puttabong Summer from Adagio. My first darjeeling… I’m in heaven. I’ve since tried Darjeeling Sungma Summer (also Adagio) and don’t like it at all. I can’t believe how different they are. The Sungma almost tastes like coffee.

I have no idea how to properly explain what I like about the Puttabong. Is it astringent or not (I think not)? Smooth (I think yes)? Bold, but mild? Is that even possible? It has a lot of flavor but isn’t strong or the least bitter. How does it rate on muscatel flavor (I have no idea)?

I’m fascinated by how big the leaves get as they unfurl – is that something that contributes to the flavor I’m loving? The Sungma leaves are considerably smaller/broken. The Sungma has a “burnt” taste. Are the leaves more oxidized than the Puttabong perhaps? I like Tea Forte’s English Breakfast for many of the same reasons – though since trying the Puttabong, there’s no comparison. I have also since tried their “Estate Darjeeling,” and while I didn’t dislike it, it didn’t blow me away like the Puttabong.

So based on this, can anyone identify what I might actually be liking here (and maybe don’t like about the Sungma)? :)

13 Replies
moraiwe said

The processing of Darjeeling is pretty universal, as it’s a very important part of what makes Darjeeling Darjeeling basically. (If you want to read more, this [http://www.thunderbolttea.com/pages/darjeeling_tea_processing.html] is a pretty decent resource). So if they were harvested at the same time (both summer flush), it’s not actually that likely that oxidization is playing a huge role here.

However, terroir makes a huge difference in Darjeelings. The estate makes a huge difference in the tea with Darjeeling. So you’re basically just talking two different estates here, one at 1900 ft above sea level and one at 6000 ft. The one at 6000 feet is going to have a different flavor based on the fact that leaves grow slower and differently up there.

Thank you, moraiwe! I do understand the “flush” will greatly affect the flavor, but didn’t know elevation was such a big factor. Am I likely to find those cultivated at higher altitudes to be more similar in flavor (understanding there are many other factors involved!)?

If anyone else had additional thoughts/ideas (especially if you’ve had the Adagio Puttabong), please add! I also thought this topic could be used for anyone to ask the same question about teas they love. :)

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Another thing about Darjeelings is that technically, they are not Black teas, since they are not 100% oxidized. Thus, most of them are actually Oolongs, or a hybrid between black and oolong. So that could account for some of the variation you’ve noticed… as each plantation will process their product in a slightly different manner


um, not sure I follow. Why do you say that Darjeelings aren’t 100% oxidized?

Farmers have been making Darjeeling tea that way for decades, I guess because it yields a better flavour profile. Only recently did they discover that with their process, they weren’t making black tea, since there isn’t much crossover between Asian and Indian tea farmers. Not that it matters, it’s still tea no matter what classification! :)


:/ think Wikipedia is wrong. According to the Tea book (published by Camellia Sinenis in Canada) an oolongs withering process is only 30 mins – 2 hours. While with black teas the withering process is 14-17 hours. So a hard wither, wouldn’t that be a longer wither and thus a black?

There was also much cross over between China and India in that Robert Fortune who brought back the first Camellia Sinensis Sinensis also brought back Chinese workers to manage the crops and make tea in the Chinese/british fashion (not in the Assam fashion).



Is the book I mentioned. Its a really good book (probably the best I’ve ever read on tea), breaks down not only about tea but also the geographic regions. Has yummy recipes in the back of it too. (My only complaint with the book is that it only gives Africa 2 pages…while it gives massive sections to India and China and Japan.)

ifjuly said

I’ve been a bit confused about the darjeeling oxidation “black or oolong?” level thing for a while now, so I am following this discussion with interest!

I’ve seen that one! wish I could afford it.
But the book is only partially correct. Many Oolong teas are oxidized for only a short time, like some TKY… but others are oxidized for longer. This is what makes tea production an art :)
My Prof, who teaches the tea sommelier program related this to us based on several conversations he’s had with tea farmers in India and distributors in North Amercia. He also acknowledged that there is much discussion over this, and thus no established definition. I guess it all depends on opinion and preference.


I think that Darjeelings are more fluid, especially with how the estates make them. But with all that fluidity, I still see the traditional Darjeeling as black. Now darjeeling is diversifying and making all sorts of stuff, including oolongs. But that’s just it, now they are making oolongs, they weren’t several decades ago.

First Flushes are made to look as green as they are; and are less oxidized than second flushes. One could argue that if something is less than 100% (the “definition” of a black tea) then it isn’t a black. To me black teas start around 90% oxidation (maybe even 85%). But a bigger part of the definition is how the tea is rolled. If you look at the links below at the first flush and the oolong, the color of the tea is hard to distinguish. Yet the taste between these two offers a very clear definition between the oolong and the first flush (which I would still consider a black).

I think a bigger difference between how a black tea and an oolong is the steps in the process, especially in how the teas are rolled, and the leaves used. Black teas (and Indian teas are a prime example of the 1 leaf and a bud/2 leaf and bud), yet oolongs are usually made with more mature leaves than the bud.





….I might be slightly obsessed with Indian teas. ;) Hope I don’t scare anyone. Its my dream to taste every single tea estate in Darjeeling (both first flushes and their second flushes) in one year time period. (Just so I can try and taste the difference!)

Lots of interesting replies! SFTGFOP: Have you ever ordered from Darjeeling Tea Express? I love how you can order very reasonably priced samples of everything they sell, but there are almost no reviews on Steepster and I saw in one discussion that others haven’t been happy (with the service, I think – not sure about the product).


-Sunshine, I’ve ordered from them one or two times but wasn’t "wow"ed. The service seemed good/normal to me so I can not comment about that. The teas I tried weren’t that great, but don’t feel I can blame Darjeeling Tea Express when it is probably the estate’s fault.

I do love their wide selection. They probably have the most darjeelings (I haven’t counted), so something to be said there.

If I did have something to complain about Darjeeling Tea Express (and lets face it, if you’ve read my post, I love complaining), its that I don’t like how one sided their first flush darjeelings are. There has been a shift in the Darjeeling tea community to create a bigger distinction between first flushes and second flushes. The result is much “greener” first flushes. Again I don’t know if this is something I can pin down on the tea estates or the tea shop. They have an excellent level of diversity of tea estates, just wish there were more of the “blacker” first flush.

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