Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Gopaldhara Maharaja of Darjeeling Muscatel; on Darjeeling clonals / cultivars

another beautiful tea, lots of tips

Gopaldhara sent two samples of second flush teas, related to a very recent post (here), this second of which they described as a Maharaj of Darjeeling Muscatel.  This tea and the last I reviewed are quite different, so I'll go against convention and review one after the other here.  I'll say more about the cultivar / clonal / plant type in a research section, and start with the vendor product background:

CULTIVAR:   AV2 Most Preferred Clones
ELEVATION: 5000-7000 FT
TEA TYPE: Oolong Whole Leaf
FLUSH SEASON: Second Flush
TYPE OF PLUCKING: 100% fine leaf, mostly comprising of two leaves and a bud

This really seems like a black tea, but then a standard oxidation level definition may well put it in the oolong range instead, as listed.  The first tea I reviewed from this set of samples was nothing like a black tea (the Wonder Gold), and the second seemed clearly that (per the more specific product description maybe not, as with this one).


black tea, small leaves and buds

In this tea the muscatel is even stronger than in the first tea I had reviewed.  It starts to develop towards a brandy liquor effect, which is very nice, a positive extension into an unusual level of depth.  It gives up some of the bright fruit effect for doing so but the trade is not a bad thing given the rich, balanced, more unique flavor range it moves into.  That other example was great for nailing the expected type, this one excels for deviating from it.

Spice rounds out the flavors balance.  Again there's a bit of orange rind citrus, with an earthy and mineral base that's more difficult to separate as a list.  Astringency is not so much an issue, and the flavors are very clean.  This tea could change character with brewing process changes, at a guess, taking on more body and astringency brewed at higher temperature or prepared as a stronger infusion, and lightening up brewed cooler or less strong, still showing the fruit range.  I take this to be a standard effect for Darjeelings, potential for adjusting results with brewing changes, but it does vary by type.  Some people recommend one brewing temperature for all Darjeeling types, but again that may or may not be the best approach, related to individual preferences.

This version includes a lot of tips, changing the style of tea from that of mostly leaf based teas.  It's interesting how many differences there are between different regional versions of related style teas, for example how far apart this tea is in character from an Indonesian tip - prevalent black tea, or how different the aspects are from a Jin Jun Mei (which should be a pure var. Sinensis, so I'm mixing different factors now).  The more general point is that black teas cover lots of range, interesting in how they vary.  Then again these two second flush Darjeeling teas were likely grown quite close to each other, at the same time, and they vary quite a bit too, so you don't need to go to the next growing region to be impressed by that.

One criticism I've had with some Darjeelings relates to some coming across as thin, but that's not applying to these Gopaldhara teas.  The rich fullness of a lighter oolong wouldn't be matched, except that Wonder Gold version went really far with full body, but the black teas--or these teas closer to true black teas--aren't at all thin, not light in feel, and not limited in terms of aftertaste.

Research section, on Darjeeling cultivars:

I've been skipping this type of research review for awhile, and this presents a good chance to get back to it.  The tea plant type is identified as AV 2, a Darjeeling clone or cultivar type, from the general Camelia Sinensis var. Sinensis, or Chinese branch of main tea plant types, versus var. Assamica plants used in Assam and other places.

Even that may oversimplify.  I'd mentioned a Hojo vendor reference in the last post that stated most Darjeeling plants are really now hybrids, with a mix of background types, combining genetics from Assamica plants through natural breeding.  Ideally this creates plant types with more positive characteristics than either pure original type, spanning a range of potential goals, not the least of which is final aspects in a brewed tea.  A short general Tealet reference authored by Nigel Melican mentions that most tea grown in the US is a hybrid from the two general plant types, but the concern there seems to be cold resistance versus other factors.

There is more on the region, tea plant types, and processing in another Hojo reference here.  It would take more research into AV 2 to determine which  prior plant types were inputs, and even then the history of plant derivations for those may not be clear given the long history.  Speaking of history, lets back up and start with that.

Tea production regions in India (photo credit)

According to this reference Darjeeling teas were originally based on Chinese plant types:

Arthur Campbell was a Scottish state employee who was transferred from Nepal to Darjeeling in 1839. Shortly after its arrival he planted some Chinese tea seeds in its private garden. Soon his neighbors imitated him and 11 years later Campbell reported that over 200 tea bushes were growing in the region.

A second reference tells a slightly varied story related to the timeline, with essentially the same details:

Tea plants from China were brought to this region from a British civil surgeon, Dr. A. Campbell, around 1834 as an experiment. This smaller Chinese variety (camellia sinensis var. sinensis, as opposed to var.assamica) planted at 700ft. Proved successful and he was given permission to plant several tea nurseries in 1847...

That reference credits the Puttabong Estate for creating the AV2 plant type, and mentions they were the first estate planted in Darjeeling, established in 1852.

According to a Teabox vendor reference AV2 is one of around thirty Darjeeling clonal tea types, with AV standing for Ambari Vegetative, with additional description as follows:

The Darjeeling oolongs grow at a higher elevation, with a more stable temperature range, and a mix of old China bushes and the clonal ones. The AV2 and complementary varieties are noted for their complexity and aromatic floral notes. Over the past decade, new AV2 teas have won most awards in competitions. One of the recurrent themes in reviews is the surprise factor – AV2 teas are decidedly different, not just better, than comparative ones of very high quality: common adjectives are memorable, mind-blowing, unexpected, bolder and even “budful.”

To cite an example of a well-known tea (to some), per that reference Castleton's Moonlight White is made from the AV 2 cultivar, of course using a derivation of a Chinese tea processing method instead.

There are a number of Darjeeling related research organizations and academic institutions (for example, this government supported agency), but researching background on teas is not as straightforward as one might imagine.  There is a broad gap between vendor marketing content, general summary reference material, and narrowly scoped research material (as referenced in this summary of related references by the Organic Tea and Agri-Horticultural Consulting agency).

A good example of that point is found in the paper Performance of Tea Clones in the Nursery through Vegetative Propagation in Darjeeling, which is actually a lighter and more interesting read than it sounds.  A bit of background from that, prior to getting into that study and the findings, which didn't include research of the AV2 type anyway:

...the out breeding characters of tea species have led to a wide natural hybridization resulting in
considerable heterogeneity in the existing populations. Therefore, it is difficult to assign a definite varietal status for a clone grown in a particular region. One of the basic requirements for successful tea cultivation is the planting material. It may be raised either from the seed or clone. Since, 1960s vegetatively propagated clones began to replace seed propagation and probably reduced the genetic diversity within tea cultivation. 

AV2 on the right (see Discovering Tea for more details, photo credit)

See, nearly conversational.  The first point addressed the issue of prior combined inputs to hybrid / clonal tea types, and the latter starts into propagating tea plant through cuttings instead of seeds.  Interesting!  But well off the subject here.

Back to the subject of different kinds of references, this Discovering Tea blog post doesn't include much content but does show pictures of three different clonal types, including AV 2.

As can happen all this isn't really heading towards any natural conclusion.  It was interesting reviewing a Reddit discussion on Darjeeling plant types in looking all this up, related to how limited the progress was there:

[–]hong_yun:  I tried this year's AV2 and B157 from Rohini tea estate, and I liked the former more.

[–]cupsandcakes9: Yes. AV2 seems to have a much richer flavor profile.

Good input, but that was about it.  Lots of other factors come into play, related to the final tea characteristics not just depending on plant type, but this related Gopaldhara tea had a rich flavor profile as well.

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