The Wonders of Jungpana Tea Estate Fine Darjeeling Teas

Lest anyone think, after reading our reminiscent post on the disappointing teas from Makaibari Tea Estate, that we are being totally negative toward Darjeeling teas, we thought we should point out some of the really good gardens. These are ones under sensible managers and focused on developing great teas for us tea lovers as opposed to trying to create teas to please some tea judge at some tea exposition. The Jungpana Tea Estate is the first such quality garden to come to mind for this. So here goes…

About the Ratings

The ratings shown for these teas are part of the Orange Pekoe rating system used for Darjeeling and other teas in some countries.

  • “FTGFOP” = “Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe”
  • “SFTGFOP” = “Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe”
  • “1” = a step up in quality.
  • “CL” = a clonal tea, that is, a “vintage” tea plant was cloned.

Dry Tea Leaves

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Steeping & Steeped Tea Leaves

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In the Cup

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The Vendors

The samples above came from these vendors (click on each logo to see details):

About the Jungpana Tea Estate

Jungpana Tea Estate official site

The Jungpana Tea Estate is one of the smaller tea estates in the Darjeeling area of West Bengal in northern India. It has been growing and producing what many call “vintage” Darjeeling teas for around 100 years. Getting the tea from the garden to market is quite an undertaking, since they have to be toted down the mountain-side by workers (a bridge and mule train were washed away by landslides in 1993). We gave the tea its due respect in light of such efforts being made.

The Jungpana estate is fairly well known among lovers of Darjeeling teas. The name “Jungpana” is based on a legend and meaning roughly “where Jung Bahadur had his last drink of water.” [Jung was a servant mauled by a tiger he was trying to keep from attacking his British hunter master. And “pana” means water.]

The estate, originally planted by a British tea planter named Henry Lennox in 1899, has been producing undeniably vintage Darjeeling teas famous for their muscatel flavor. The Kejriwal family took over ownership in 1953 and still run it today. Despite their hard-to-access location (no roads), they have managed to build quite a reputation. Their teas have a distinct flavor attributed to their micro-climate on the south side of a mountain in the foothills of the Himalayas. Their tea bushes are pure Chinese jats, and they use manufacturing techniques that produce the finest rich flavor and bouquet for which Darjeeling teas claim the name “the champagne of teas.”

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Some pics of the estate, factory, etc., from their site. Click each photo to see details (if no details showing, please let me know since WordPress is dropping them, usually off of last image in each group):

Jungpana Estate Under Siege by Morcha-backed Union

In 2014 while writing up this article, we came across a troubling article. Jungpana director Shantanu Kejriwal, a member of the family that has owned the estate since 1953, said he had ordered a work suspension (for the first time in the estate’s history) due to a “labour issue.” Things were resolved peacefully, and the 260 who rely on the estate for their living returned to their normal work soon without further disturbances from outsiders. Mr. Kejriwal has our admiration for accomplishing this.

The Basics of Darjeeling Flushes

Some people say there are three flushes each growing season in Darjeeling and others say there are four flushes, maybe even five. But what is a flush? And how does the tea from each one vary?

What Is a Flush

Some people assume that “flush” only refers to the actual act of harvesting. However, a flush is a period where the tea plants grow new leaves that are then harvested either by machine or by hand, often determined by the type of tea being produced. Just as with most plants, the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) goes through periods of growth and then dormancy, varying with the location where they are grown. (Some locations, such as Nilgiri, harvest year round but still on a schedule of flushes, that is, letting the plants grow a covering of new leaves, harvesting them, and then another covering grows.) When the plants “awake” from their dormant state in early Spring, the first growing season starts, leading to the first harvest and thus completing the “flush.”

While the exact names of flushes vary from region to region, the terms “First Flush” and “Second Flush” are common, especially for Darjeeling teas where the better quality ones often include their flush in the tea name. For example: Jungpana FTGFOP 1 CL 2nd Flush 2013 is from the Jungpana tea estate and was harvested at the end of the second growth period during the growing season in the year 2013. Simple!

First Flush (late February to mid April or early March thru mid April)

This is the first growth after dormancy. The plucking/harvesting time varies by location, some being between late February to mid April, others not starting until early March and going thru mid April. Some call this the “Spring Flush” or “Easter Flush.” If the weather is right, this could be the best flush of the growing season and command high prices from tea connoisseurs.

Often the leaves are plucked while they are still tender new shoots on the stalks of the tea bushes. They are called “buds” but are not like flower buds. They are instead the much sought “two leaves and a bud combo” used in “tippy” teas. They are supposed to contain the most catechins (antioxidants), L-theanine (a stimulant), and caffeine of any of the pickings, but there is some on-going discussion about this, especially the caffeine part. Their shelf-life is usually rather short (a few months at most).

The steeped liquid is described in various ways: very delicate tasting, light infusion with a pale color; a generally intense muscatel with ‘point’; a light yellow to coppery red cup color with delicate flowery aroma; a delicate, floral, pale infusion, usually made into black tea, but sometimes white; a tea that is peachy and greenish; a greener muscatel flavor of tea; outstanding flowery meadow-like flavor, and so on.

Darjeeling is the “Land of the Thunderbolt” and sits at the feet of the Himalayas. The storms that roll across the region play an integral part in the growing cycle of  the tea plant, which is an evergreen and tropical, needing lots of rain to grow. Just after the first flush, storms come through and the plants, having soaked up all that moisture, go dormant briefly, and then comes the next period of growth (the second flush). [Note: Not all areas of Darjeeling produce subsequent harvestable growths.]

In-Betweeners (late April to early May)

Some plantations trim new growth that sprouts after the first flush is harvested to encourage a growth spurt in the tea plants that they can harvest for making very low-grade tea. They do not mark this tea with a flush and typically use it for bags and/or local markets. Harvesting these Darjeeling “In-Betweeners” begins in late April to early May, and the leaves steep up an astringent but rounded cup of tea, a step away from Second Flush Darjeeling teas.

Second Flush (late May to June)

Whether or not an “in-between” harvest is made, this official Second Flush is the growth that follows a brief period of dormancy. These tea leaves are picked from late May to June and produce an amazing, well rounded, mature and fruity flavor of tea that is said to be less astringent and even better than the first flush. The leaves steep up a liquid that is bright with a taste that is full, round, and has an excellent muscatel character – perfect for your afternoon tea time with scones and raspberry conserve. Some claim this flush steeps up a tea with a marvelous muscatel character. Some say it is the lowest quality flush whereas others drink nothing else.

Having tried a number of Second Flush Darjeelings, we rounded up a few of the impressions we had had:

  • … a general planty sweetness.
  • … a mild, delicious green tea…Very distinctive taste…clearly a tea from Darjeeling, India.
  • Very different from the other Darjeelings yet having a distinctive Darjeeling taste.
  • Another distinct tasting tea that still has the overall characteristics of a tea from Darjeeling, India.
  • Complex flavors seemed to change with each sip as the tea cooled. That world-renowned muscatel-like flavor was evident, especially in the aftertaste.
  • …started out woodsy when hot and turned fruity and smoother as they cooled.
  • …the flavor…changed subtly as it started to cool after being poured into the cup. …The fruitiness became more pronounced with a planty finish…
  • …the flavors…changed, with the characteristic Muscatel flavor becoming more pronounced with a nutty hit to the roof of my mouth. …this tea needs no sweetener or milk. Just a fabulous and refreshing white tea!

A fine Summer Flush tea from a reputable estate can be just as distinctive and flavorful as a First Flush.

Monsoon Flush (September)

As previously stated, the tea plant is one that needs a lot of moisture. It tends to thrive in areas subject to monsoonal weather patterns. In Darjeeling heavy rains fall from July until September. The Second Flush has to be harvested before these rains start. After the rains stop, the tea plants start growing again, producing harvestable leaves that some estates process as green teas to meet the growing demand. Others use the leaves in teabags and blends due to their stronger flavor. The leaves are plentiful but considered lower quality, steeping a dark tea liquid with a dull flavor.

Third (Autumn) Flush (October and November)

More commonly called “Autumn Flush” or even “Autumnals,” known for their large leaves. Careful tending of the estate after the Second Flush is a must, whether or not a Monsoon Flush harvest is attempted, to prepare for this final flush of the year. Weeding is essential as is a good fertilizing since the tea plants will do most of their growth during Autumn. They aren’t always available (weather conditions have to be just right). In mid-September the monsoon season ends and the tea plants resume growth until October and November when they are harvested. The leaves produce a very dark leaf that steeps up a full-bodied and naturally fruity flavored tea (the buds contain more sap than normal due to slower growth). The ones that do make it to market typically have a coppery colored liquid and a nice round taste, quite suitable as a breakfast tea and stronger than the Second Flush. Hubby and I even find that they can take a very small amount of milk and a little sweetener, if you so desire.

Winter Flush (November and February)

Around October, the tea plants are pruned to prepare them for Winter, and tea plants under four years of age must be protected from the cold. However, sometimes another flush is possible. The fairly rare Winter Flush is usually harvested between November and February, but only under the best weather conditions and even then the quality is rather low. The tea plants are most often dormant from December to February.

Disclaimer: These teas were provided by several companies. However, any opinions concerning the teas and anything associated with them  are always strictly objective.

© 2016-2020 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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4 thoughts on “The Wonders of Jungpana Tea Estate Fine Darjeeling Teas”

  1. My dad executed the sale in 1953! Thru high school, lived in Darjeeling. Last 50 years in California
    Every three months, we get tea from Darj &Dooars.
    The ones we like from the package received 3 weeks ago in order of preference with 1 being best :
    1. Okai
    2. Thurbo
    3. Gumtee

    Not as good as the above three.

    4. Margaret’s Hope
    5. Giddahpahar
    6. Jungpana
    7. Castleton

    No, we don’t own any more tea gardens or shares!

    Three months ago, Glenburn topped our list with Jungpana second.

    Regards
    Herbert & Shukla Ray

    Like

    1. Fabulous! Thanks for sharing. We have tried teas from all of the above but Okai and we like Jungpana best. Castleton is next, and Giddapahar is third. Margaret’s Hope seems a bit weak and Thurbo and Gumtee were fair. We realize that year to year variations are natural, but our list is based on consistency between samples. People’s tastes and preferences will naturally vary, too.

      Like

    2. Oh dear, it didn’t occur to me until now that you were pointing out I had the date wrong on that photo. Has been fixed, and thank you.

      Like

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