There is no doubt: teas from Darjeeling are unique in taste and sought after by tea-connoisseurs around the world. But why is its taste, known as "Muscatel" (especially regarding the Second Flush teas) so unique? What makes it different from other teas?
There is a strong evidence that it is not (or at least not only) the soil, the climate, the harvesting method, the processing or all together, as always described, but it is, due to the high altitude the tea is growing at, the intensity of UV-light! The higher plants are growing, the more they are exposed to UV-light viz. to oxidative stress. To protect themselves against this stress, the plants developed certain compounds, the so-called Flavonoids.
Flavonoids are antioxidants. Antioxidants accept electrons from reactive oxygen species caused by UV-radiation. In this way antioxidants inhibit respectively retard the plant´s cell damage. And because Darjeeling is one of the highest tea-growing regions, its teas show consequently some of the highest amounts of antioxidants. These are, after harvesting and processing: Catechins - which belong to Flavanols, a subclass of Flavanoids - in green tea, and Theaflavins and Theobromine in black tea.
But Flavonoids do not only serve as antioxidants for (tea) plants. Derivatives like Flavonoid Glycoside "are known to serve as antioxidants and also as aroma precursors." The higher the amount of these derivatives, the more aroma precursors are available and the greater is the aroma (in intensity and/or complexity). This, combined with all the environmental aspects mentioned above - as well as the impact of the processing - makes the uniqueness of teas from Darjeeling.
Note: regarding the health aspects of antioxidants in tea see our Blog-article "Antioxidants in Green Tee - Bad News and Good News".
Photo: Alexa Klopfenstein