22 September 2010

Do Not Foresake Me Oh My Darjeeling

One of the countless introductions I've had since I moved to New York is to The Prisoner, a 1960s British TV series in which the main character, a former secret agent, is abducted after resigning from his job. He is held captive in a surreal village, given a number as identification, and constantly tormented and plied for information from an authoritative figure called Number Two.

My first roommate here- a design, music and general pop-culture savant- was the one who showed it to me. I remember thinking the opening sequence was cool, but quickly started to crack up throughout the hour-long episode. Everyone in village was dressed in bizarre, bright stripes, twirling big umbrellas while speaking in creepy aphorisms, and just seemed to be taking themselves so seriously. The prisoner himself (referred to as Number Six) was the worst offender, kicking, barking or snarling at every village accoutrement and inhabitant. There was one scene in which Number Six, invited for a chat with Number Two, smashes down a perfectly nice cup of tea that's been prepared for him without even taking a sip (I can't seem to find the clip, but trust me, it is hilarious).

I know my old roommate was annoyed at my failure to immediately recognize The Prisoner's brilliance. But after a few more episodes, I was hooked- and then I was the one shooting dark glares anyone who dared speak while watching. Perhaps my initial response was immaturity, or simply not enough exposure to the soul-crushing world of corporate employment; regardless, it's time now, over 10 years later, to pay due homage.

Number Six, asked whether he wants "Indian or Chinese" tea for his angry little party, chooses Indian. So what better way to offer tribute than with a tasting of such a black tea, steeped in the storied British tradition of domination?

Darjeeling is one of the most beloved Indian teas. In the mid-1800s, the English established tea gardens in this remote, elevated region of western Bengal; by the end of that century, these had expanded into plantations and tea processing centers. And as Darjeeling leaves are processed from different pickings (or flushes) throughout the season, the distinct types make for an intriguing side-by-side comparison.

I brewed up both, and began with the first flush (bottom right). This is an early spring tea, with a delicate, slightly astringent, floral taste. The second flush (upper left), which is harvested from the later growth on the bushes, has a fuller flavor, with lingering muscatel notes. I much preferred its more developed aroma and roundness.

You can even see the difference in the leaves: the first flush (left) maintain a touch of green color, while the second flush (right) appears completely oxidized.

But taste is a strange beast. Try both, and see which you prefer. Regardless, there's no need to smash any cups afterward- unless you're feeling particularly oppressed.


danselzer said...

My ears are burning?

ana dane said...

they most certainly should be.

who is Number One?

Anonymous said...

Ah, The Prisoner! Loved it then, love it now. "I am not a number, I am a free man!"

Hush and drink your tea.

Ethan Nicholas said...

wonderful post and wonderful blog! a fellow nyc tea lover! I don't know how we didn't connect sooner! check out my tea blog www.theteagastronomer.blogspot.com and let me know what you think! Glad to read all of your posts! Hope we can share tea musings at some point!

DarjeelingTeaXpress said...

I second Ethan - wonderful blog and post. Would love to know which first flush garden tea did you buy? If you want to find out more about different Darjeeling tea flushes/type - do check our wikipedia : www.darjeelingteaexpress.com

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