Our 2021 1st Flush Darjeeling tea from the Upper Fagu Tea Estate, an ‘Enigma‘ pluck, was harvested at an unusually early time for a Darjeeling harvest. So this year it is chronologically an interesting example of the genre of specialty, early-spring-plucked black teas that may not occur every season. Due to its limited production, the leaf was plucked by the ‘first string’ of tea workers, who have been busy this year carefully harvesting the premium crop of leaf that will be the basis of the season’s (therefore the year’s) economy for this estate.
We were able to source this very special tea immediately following its pluck, and now this ‘Enigma‘ manufacture of 2021 tea has arrived for us to enjoy. Supply is limited, as would be expected for both an unusual pluck and this odd pandemic-continuing year.
The aroma is slightly dry, and mostly brisk, with hints of fresh hay and a whisper of tomato stem (taste-memory of a very fine, young Ceylon). Its flavor is straightforward and refreshing, clean on the palate, and never heavy or sharp. It is in many ways a quintessential late-season 1st Flush Darjeeling, but harvested much earlier than that – at the opposite end of the 1st Flush! Flavorful and deeply full-bodied, it is hopefully a sneak preview of the 2nd Flush teas to come from this venerable Estate. There are influences of clean, stone (mineral) flavors, stalk celery, roasted root vegetables; and it has a full body without being ‘creamy’. There is an elegant smooth & light character to the steeped tea that not all 1st Flush teas show. We find this overall style to be quite representative of teas from the Teesta Valley (see below). It is a truly delicious addition to our selection of Darjeeling teas this year!
Our 2021 Upper Fagu Tea Estate 1st Flush Darjeeling ‘Enigma‘ selection is from a section of the tea garden that offers a small proportion of classic Darjeeling-developed cultivar tea plants. The yield from this section is low but the tea has excellent flavor. The classic Darjeeling tea season’s weather conditions bring out the best flavor from these tea bushes in the early spring, which is the preferred time for an ‘Enigma‘ pluck. These bushes contribute remarkable depth of flavor to the overall style of the Upper Fagu 1st Flush tea’s preparation.
This tea, an Enigma pluck, is from the beginning of the early, first-of-the-harvest (1st Flush) pluck of the Upper Fagu Tea Estate in Feb/March of this year (2021). Other than last year – the first Covid pandemic season – we have not sourced an Enigma tea from any Darjeeling Tea Estate since 2018, 2017, and 2012. It is wonderful to have an example of this tea back again. Perhaps this is one of the ‘silver linings’ of the pandemic!!
The Enigma crop is unique to only a few high altitude tea gardens in Darjeeling, and is produced from either a 100% pluck of the AV2 cultivar, (the cultivar that contemporarily has been ‘wow’-ing most Darjeeling tea tastings for the last 5-10 years) or from a blend that is high in proportion of AV2. Based on china bush plantings and with some wild, native Darjeeling plant mixed in, these bushes not only thrive in the unusual terroir of the Himalaya, but also have almost all the elements of flavor and style that Darjeeling enthusiasts expect (and want) in their cup of Darjeeling tea.
We love finding unusual, limited-production special manufactures that are distinctive and exciting – the ones that encourage all tea enthusiasts to break out of their comfort zone and try new things. We knew that the 2021 ‘Enigma‘ was great (and similar to last year’s) as soon as we started to work with it – the smell of the dry leaf as we crumbled it in our palm (classic ‘forest-floor’ but with no mustiness); and then, when we steeped it – WOW this is something that we must have, and how lucky we are two years in a row!! It is in some ways similar to the 2017/2018 ‘Enigma‘ tea that we had from the Rohini Tea Estate’s harvest, and yet it is uniquely its own manufacture – as it should be!
When you open a package of this tea you will immediately be excited by it. One sip will show a truly unique and delicious tea – smooth, lightly-syrupy, focused and substantial in flavor, sweet, with a uniquely intoxicating aroma. This tea is solid, bright, and has a smooth flavor that is unusual in a 1st Flush Darjeeling tea.
Enigma 2021 stands apart from our other more traditional Darjeelings in that it does not have their usual briskness, and it also does not show any thinness. This Upper Fagu Tea Estate 2021 Enigma instead has a mellow, substantial flavor profile. For those who love the easy drink-ability of Nepal, Sikkim or other Himalaya black teas, this tea is a stylish alternative.
Only a few Darjeeling growers use China bush varietals today and the AV2 cultivar is known to be an old bush clonal that has adapted to its environment very well. It is an excellent example of terroir, that sense of place that is so important in premium teas and that we go out of our way to find.
We thought this Darjeeling would be perfect for our enthusiasts who have been enjoying the Himalaya growths from Nepal that we have been offering for several years. Those hand-rolled teas have a similar style to this, but the Upper Fagu Tea Estate 2021 Enigma, being a true Darjeeling, also brings to the cup that unmistakable ‘muscatel’ Darjeeling flavor – raisin-y, wine-y and exotically perfumed.
If you are looking for a treat either for yourself or someone who fancies the Darjeeling and Himalaya growths, this tea should be high on your list of teas to try this season – who knows whether or not we will have it next season, as we had never had it before last season!
The somewhat remote Upper Fagu Tea Estate, like its few neighbors, is quite small – especially for a Darjeeling tea estate – but is very highly regarded for its premium leaf.
The estate produces black tea in the classic, more traditional style of Darjeeling.
Forest reserves, rivers and cool Himalaya air contribute to the unique taste of Darjeeling teas that originate in the Teesta Valley, the most northeasterly tea-growing valley of the officially-designated region of Darjeeling. The general altitude in this area is around 3000 feet. This region sits northeast of the majority of the other gardens of the ‘official’ Darjeeling region and just south of Sikkim. We are always amazed that this area is so far west of Lhasa. When we were in Xigaze years ago we could have traveled due south and been in Darjeeling quite directly, by following the western frontier of Bhutan.
Some of the other gardens in this sub-region, from which we have had delicious tea, are Glenburn, Hillton, Namring, Snowview, Runglee Rungliot, and Selimbong. We hope to taste several 2nd Flush teas from this valley in Darjeeling East this year, as they tend to be quite good. It seems that the lack of harvesting in 2017 (due to the general strike) served this area well, while it was not a good influence in most of the other sub-regions of Darjeeling. It is believed that a similar phenomenon occurred last year (2020) due to the reduced picking caused by the Covid pandemic; and is quite logical, historically.