American Tea Room Puttabong Estate Muscatel Darjeeling was my first non-teabag Darjeeling, and the difference in flavor and sensation was so remarkable that I can’t even bring myself to finish the Darjeeling teabags I have left. It is like the difference between boxed Mac & Cheese and restaurant-prepared Fettucine Alfredo. Sure, the boxed mac & cheese is edible and will work in a pinch or when feeling lazy. But Fettucine Alfredo is just so much more indulgent and satisfying. And so it is with fine loose tea like this Puttabong Darjeeling, rated SFTGFOPQ (Superior Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe….? Not sure if I got all that correct, or what the “Q” stands for, but I think you get the point…it is a good looking tea leaf.)
Once the leaves are brewed, it is easy to see why fine Darjeeling is called “the Champagne of teas.” It looks so sparkly and inviting.
Muscatel is evident, as advertised, but is not overwhelming. It is a remarkably smooth tea to drink; there is almost a satiny feel to the liquor. (I never thought I would say that about a beverage, but there it is!) The color fooled me into thinking this was going to be a very heavy-tasting tea, but it is actually light and subtle. The Puttabong Darjeeling left such an impression on me that I wanted to know more about it.
Puttabong Estate was first planted in 1852. According to author Sarah Rose in For All the Tea In China, the plants that Robert Fortune obtained from Wuyi Province in China found their eventual home in the rugged Himalayan foothills of Darjeeling:
The first black tea in Darjeeling, however, could not have been from anything other than that sent by Fortune in those Wardian cases layered with soil and seeds.
If Fortune’s seeds were not represented in the very first season’s planting, they were most surely sown there by the completion of his travels.
In Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea, author Jeff Koehler mentions that Puttabong, also called Tukvar, was “among the first Darjeeling gardens planted out,” at an elevation ranging from “1500 to 6500 feet” above sea level. The bushes here also “go into hibernation for three of four months in the winter,” and the plants themselves, descendants from China that arrived in Fortune’s Wardian cases, “have smaller, slower growing leaves than Assam bushes, the most common type planted across” India. For these reasons, Darjeeling teas account for less than 1% of the total produced in India annually.
Koehler adds that “since its recent organic conversion…they are producing up to 300,000 kilograms, or 660,000 pounds, of tea year, making it one of the largest estates in Darjeeling.” Puttabong Darjeeling tea seems like it is almost the quintessential Darjeeling tea, grown on an estate committed to “conserving the farm’s soil and protecting the environment and wildlife.”
My only issue with the American Tea Room Puttabong Estate Muscatel Darjeeling is that there doesn’t seem to be any information about which flush they are selling. I am certainly not enough of a tea expert to tell from taste, but I will go ahead and assume that it is NOT first flush, just based on the fact that American Tea Room seems to note when it is a first flush tea, as with this Arya Diamond 2014 First Flush Darjeeling. The pot of tea I had was wonderful, so I am not complaining at all. I am just curious if it would be considered a second flush or an autumnal. (My guess is autumnal, just based on other descriptions of how they look when brewed, with the deep color and sparkle.) Regardless, Puttabong Darjeeling is definitely a tea I look forward to drinking again.
Read more about Darjeeling Tea: