Terroir. We hear this term bandied about in the wine world, but it is by no means exclusive. What does it mean and what does it mean particularly for the tea-drinker? At its base, terroir refers to the conditions of the immediate environment in which our tea plants grow. Its meaning reaches to the soil surrounding the roots, the climate, the elevation at which the bushes grow, drainage of the crops and the weather conditions they have been subject to during each new flush’s growth. We can see: the term is heavily loaded.
All these factors among others (leaf style, production, varietal of plant etc) impact the taste that reaches your lips at the other end of the journey! Now, in light of this phenomenon, we can make choices.
As each tea enthusiast follows their unique tea journey, they will often be presented with this choice between a tea “blend” or what we refer to as a “seasonal” pick, or a single estate tea.
We are either embracing the terroir of each season or craving and brewing a particular tasting blend with various taste componants. Both are completely valid – neither should be considered “better” than the other. Just a matter of mood! There can be some strong opinions regarding each avenue, but honestly, both have great merits.
A blend offers the drinker a catered taste, or the consistency and the faith that this particular chosen tea will be the same, time after time (as much as the super-human blending gurus can manage). Blended teas allow what we describe as a balanced flavour profile. One can create a distinct tasting tea by drawing on elements from various tea plucks. English Breakfast is a prime example of this style of tea. Specialists known as cuppers will dutifully taste and record, one after another, samples of different plucks. The information garnered from these tastings allow the resulting blend to be accurate. The recipe of sorts might have to change in ratio or locational source to keep the consistency.
Seasonal teas will have the estate listed in the name – especially in regards to teas from India and Sri Lanka. The younger tea producers of Kenya are following suit in this identification protocol. The history of a region and its legends may be present in the title of the tea estate. Often the name will describe the region- like Mist Valley – an estate in Nepal. A beautiful and honest reflection of the conditions will result in the appearance of the leaf, the aroma, the flavour, the mouth-feel – everything! It can be particularly fun to follow an estate yield season after season and notice the changes.
TOP TIP: Darjeeling translates as “land of the thunderbolt”. We can expect this season to have Darjeelings (the estates in this region number many) that will reveal the heavy rains that have hit recently.
The most beautiful thing about this, is that as you drink your tea, you can know that had it come the opposite side of the very same mountain, you would be drinking a different tea. Uniqueness in definition, summed up in a beverage.
Have a cup of tea for me,
knave of cups xv