For years, India has been hailed as one of the world’s largest tea-producing countries. In fact, a 2015 report of the Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that India is the world’s second largest tea-producing country, right behind China. This can be attributed to a statistic from two years before — the country’s tea production reaching a whopping 1.2 million tonnes in 2013.1
One of India’s most-prized exports, figuratively and literally, is Darjeeling tea. This type of tea fetches a high price around the world because of its impeccable flavor. If you want to know more about what Darjeeling tea is, why it’s special and what it can offer for your health, then keep reading this article.
What Is Darjeeling Tea?
Darjeeling tea is a kind of black tea grown in a town of the same name, located in the state of West Bengal in India right below foothills of the Himalayan mountains.2,3 Darjeeling tea leaves are often derived from the upper leaves of the Chinese variety of Cammelia sinensis Var. sinensis,4 and cannot be grown or manufactured anywhere else in the world.
Darjeeling tea, frequently called the “champagne of teas,” has musky-sweet tasting notes that are similar to muscat wine, although the tea may also exhibit delicate vegetal, mossy, fruity and citrus flavors.5
Darjeeling Tea’s Health Benefits
Darjeeling tea is also prized for its health benefits that may improve your body’s health and overall well-being:6
Promote antioxidant capabilities: Darjeeling tea is rich in two complex antioxidants called theaflavins and thearubigins.
These antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals, and potentially reduce free radical damage that can target cell membranes and DNA, and raise your risk for chronic illness.
Promote positive cardiovascular effects: Results from a 2014 PLoS One study revealed that consumption of four to five cups of black tea daily may assist in reducing blood pressure levels and cardiovascular disease risk.7
Help prevent obesity and promote weight loss: Drinking black tea may promote development of microbial metabolites that may assist in regulating energy metabolism. The tea may also aid in weight loss and lower obesity risk.
Improve gut health: Research indicated that black tea may stimulate the proliferation of various good gut bacteria8 and lessen the risk for bacterial infection.9
Address gastric ulcers: A 2014 Journal of Natural medicines study highlighted that L-theanine, an amino acid in Darjeeling tea, possessed protective effects toward an NSAID-induced gastric ulcer.10
Assist with lowering diabetes risk: Various studies confirmed that consumption of black tea (which Darjeeling tea falls under) resulted in a decreased diabetes risk.11,12,13
Is There Caffeine in Darjeeling Tea?
Yes there is, just like a cup of coffee. There are roughly 50 milligrams of caffeine in darjeeling tea, although this amount may vary depending on the strength of the tea.14 However, remember that there are consequences linked to consuming excess amounts of caffeine (more on this to come later).
Learn How to Brew and Serve Darjeeling Tea
Harvesting of Darjeeling tea leaves runs from mid-March through November. Darjeeling leaves are freshly plucked, withered overnight, rolled, and fermented or oxidized before being fired. The tea bushes progress through four seasons called “flushes,” with each flush offering a distinct flavor: first flush, second flush (summer), monsoon flush and autumn flush.
As such, Darjeeling tea is often sold not only by single estate, but also by flush.15 Darjeeling tea may also be classified according to the size of the leaves, namely:16
• Whole Leaf Darjeeling Tea: Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (SFTGFOP) and Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP)
• Broken Leaf: Fine Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (FTGBOP), Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (TGBOP), Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe (FBOP) and Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP)
• Fannings: Golden Flowery Orange Fannings (GFOF) and Golden Orange Fannings (GOF)
• Dust (D)
To brew your own cup of Darjeeling tea at home, grab some tea leaves and follow this recipe:17
Quick Darjeeling Tea Recipe
• 8 ounce high-quaity filtered water
• Darjeeling tea leaves
1. Heat your water to a boil, or just below a boil. You can inspect how oxidized your tea is first, Reduce the heat more for darker teas, and lower, to around 185 degrees Fahrenheit, for less-oxidized or earlier-season teas.
2. Preheat the vessel or kettle and rinse with a little hot water. Add a tablespoon of Darjeeling tea leaves per 8 ounces of water.
3. Steep the tea for three to five minutes depending on your taste. Try tasting it to check if you are satisfied with the flavor.
You can add grass fed milk or sweeteners like raw honey, stevia or Luo Han to taste. While Darjeeling tea is best without milk, some people prefer drinking milk with the tea, and especially when tasting Autumn flush.18 Just remember that dairy may diminish the potency of some of the antioxidants in the tea.
How to Store Darjeeling Tea
In order to prolong the shelf life of your Darjeeling tea, take note of these reminders:19
• Store in an airtight container: This helps make the tea last longer, maintains the optimal moisture content of the tea leaves, inhibits dust contamination, and prevents spoilage by exposure to excess moisture caused by oxygen and other elements in the air.
• Keep Darjeeling tea away from direct sunlight and warm temperature: Increased exposure to heat sources may affect the tea chemically and physically. This can make the tea more bitter flavor or degrade its flavor. Place the tea in a cool and dark cupboard or drawer, and ensure that this spot isn’t close to the oven, grill or any appliance that emits heat.
• Avoid mixing with any strong odors: Tea is susceptible to contamination when exposed to foods that emit strong odors such as cheese, garlic, onions and spices. Tea leaves are porous, and once they absorb odors, the flavor can be affected.
• Separate your blends: It’s highly recommended to not keep one type of tea close to another, especially those with strong flavors. Storing the leaves in a sealed container can inhibit cross-contamination. Plus, clearly label your jars so you do not mistakenly combine tea blends.
Darjeeling Tea Side Effects
There have been some side effects linked to Darjeeling tea. Caffeine present in Darjeeling tea can cause the following:
Feelings of nervousness
Increased or irregular heart rate
Worsened gastrointestinal conditions
Tremors in extremities
Excess caffeine consumption may also:20
• Trigger digestive tract problems by increasing acid in the stomach, potentially leading to an upset stomach
• Promote diuretic effects by eliminating more fluids via the urine, which can cause dehydration
• Stimulate muscles that may push waste throughout the digestive tract that can cause diarrhea
• Contribute to physical and psychological dependence on the beverage
• Lead to hypokalemia or low blood potassium levels in the elderly
When taken in excess, tannins in black tea, which contribute to the drink’s slightly bitter flavor,21 can lead to an upset stomach or trigger nausea and vomiting.22 It has also been said that tannins may interfere with absorption of non-heme iron, although more research is needed to fully determine this link.23
However, an article published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that drinking tea isn’t linked to an iron deficiency unless you’re already anemic or at a high risk for a deficiency.24 Before drinking Darjeeling tea, talk to your doctor to check if you can drink this beverage without triggering side effects. If you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, limit your intake of caffeine from drinks like Darjeeling tea as much as possible.25
The Dark Side of Darjeeling Tea Production
Although this tea is highly valued and fetches a hefty price tag, the profits aren’t felt in Darjeeling, India. Most workers earn as little as 1.70 euros or 1.98 dollars a day, which is barely enough to cover basic expenses. They live in slums at the city center, where unemployment and poverty rates are alarmingly high.
Furthermore, picking tea leaves is a labor-intensive and literally backbreaking process. Workers begin their day as early as 7:00 am, harvesting leaves and gathering them into a basket suspended from their forehead and placed across their back. As heartbreaking as this sounds, this is the reality for some of the people responsible for this type of tea. Know more about the harrowing state of tea production in Darjeeling by reading “The Dark Side of the Global Tea Industry.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Darjeeling Tea
Q: What does Darjeeling tea do?
A: Because of its links to various health benefits, Darjeeling tea can be good for you. Darjeeling tea was shown to:
• Promote antioxidant properties and positive cardiovascular effects
• Improve bone, dental and gut health
• Help prevent obesity
• Alleviate gastric ulcers
• Aid in combatting diabetes
Q: Is Darjeeling tea caffeinated?
A: Yes. Darjeeling tea contains caffeine. An 8-ounce serving usually has 40 to 70 milligrams of caffeine, although the amount may change depending on the strength of the tea.
Q: Where can you buy Darjeeling tea?
A: If you’re fortunate to go on a trip to India, you can try going to the town of Darjeeling itself to buy authentic Darjeeling tea, which is considered a very prized souvenir.26 However, if this is not possible, try looking for a reputable website online that sells good-quality Darjeeling tea.
Warning: When buying tea of any kind, make sure that it's organic and grown in a pristine environment. The Camellia sinensis plant is very efficient in absorbing lead, fluoride and other heavy metals and pesticides from soil, which can then be taken up into leaves. To avoid ingesting these dangerous toxins, a clean growing environment is essential, so that you can be sure you're ingesting only pure, high-quality tea.