The search for a new GO! Kombucha flavour led us to Darjeeling, India, where the gracefully elegant Bengal tiger roams the Himalayan foothills . . .
MUCH THOUGHT and care goes into selecting the finest organic teas for GO! Kombucha. In 2013 when our 250ml line launched, rather than keep things simple with smaller versions of our existing 750ml range we introduced two new varieties, China White and Yunnan Gold; each contrasting with, and complementing, the existing flavours with their own characteristics while making for distinctly individual and unique beverages in their own right, despite being essentially the same underlying drink; tea infused with the Kombucha culture.
GO! Kombucha bucks the trend of flavouring with sugary fruit syrups and purées. Anyone who enjoys expertly brewed, full-bodied Kombucha tea ‘neat’ knows there’s no need to smother the perfect marriage of pure tea and the clean, crisp taste of raw, unadulterated Kombucha with a third layer of complexity which, if not done with adeptness and finesse, can overwhelm the palate and cancel out the delicate balance of taste notes, turning what is otherwise a mature and sophisticated drink experience into another fruit pop.
the tea estates of Darjeeling
It may seem counter-intuitive, then, that when we decided to add a new 250ml ‘grab-and-go’ tea variety – which you may agree the range has long cried out for! – the one taste profile we decided would complement and complete the existing line up of grassy Sencha, earthy Pu-erh, fragrant Pai-Mu-Tan (China White) and aromatic Superior Yunnan perfectly would be…fruit! A fruit note, that is, derived naturally from the taste and aromatics of the tea itself. And exhaustive research led us to one particular family of leaves…
Darjeeling is a region of West Bengal, 270 miles from Nepal on the Indian border. Dominated by the vast Himalayan vista, the mountain region’s foothills – linked by the famous 2ft wide, narrow-gauge “toy train” Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which snakes and winds for 48 miles through the hills at elevated levels of up to 7,218 feet en route to New Jalpaiguri – are dotted with lush tea estates, some of which date back to Colonial times, and which bask in the ideal climatic conditions for the very highest quality organic tea cultivation.
“the champagne of teas”
Darjeeling Black tea is known as “the champagne of teas” for good reason, its sumptuous flavour and unparalleled depth of taste owing to the unique geographical features of the Himalayan foothills which stand at an altitude of between 2000 and 6500 feet. A high altitude slows the tea leaves’ growth, thereby providing more time to develop their complex flavours before being plucked. And around 50 to 60 inches of rain falls in Darjeeling every year while the soil in the region is fertile and sloped; both perfect tea growing conditions.
Each Darjeeling tea estate, from which the different varieties of tea take their name, produce their own distinct variety: ‘first flushes’ harvested in mid-March following the spring rains and embodying a gentle light colour, aroma and mild astringency; and ‘second flushes’ harvested in June, darker in colour with an amber cup, full-bodied flavor and possessing the exquisite, highly-prized ‘muscatel’ black grape character owing to the genetic changes to the tea leaves caused by insects that infest the plants before the second flush harvest.
2017’s second flush crop “wiped out”
Some second flush teas have sold for as much as $1,850 (£1,427) per kilogram because of this uniqueness. Darjeeling produces about 8 million kilograms of tea per year, more than two-thirds of which is exported mainly to Europe, but last year’s entire crop was wiped out in June when Nepalese Gurkhas demanding cultural status and protection rights halted picking, disrupting supplies to European buyers and potentially pushing prices higher. (GO! Kombucha has sufficient stocks to ensure ongoing production)
Back at our Sussex vineyard we test-brewed Kombucha teas made from the finest of the Darjeeling crops we selected, and whittled and paired the best down to 4 splendid leaves; first flushes Ambootia and Risheehat – lighter in flavor combining peachy notes and a hint of spice – and second flushes Lingia and the exquisite Muscatel leaf plucked from the elevated gardens of the Gopaldhara Estate. We couldn’t choose just one leaf so…we’ve carefully blended all four for a truly unique, deliciously fruity GO! Kombucha tea taste sensation!