|"I am repeatedly reminded of the experience of drinking a good but not quite perfect grand cru wine. It makes it's own rules and it must be evaluated on its own terms."|
What an understatement. My real education in the art of tea came with James Norwood Pratt's Tea Lover's Treasury. Amongst many subjects he extolled the virtues of a very few celebrated Darjeeling estates. Margaret's Hope was one of them. To paraphrase his advice, "don't ask questions, just buy it." I delayed tasting this tea because I wanted to wait for the perfect moment. In today's hurried world, I decided to let the tea lend its own perfection to the moment that I have.
It would be difficult for anything to live up to the storied reputation of a Margaret's Hope Darjeeling, but this tea does the job. The dry leaf is an unassuming mix of red, brown and dark green with a fruity fragrance that seems quietly lush. Upon brewing, this unfurls into pretty brown, red and green whole leaves. I brewed 2 tsp. in a half liter of 212 filtered water, then gave it exactly 5 minutes of steeping. That gave me time to warm my cornbread and heat my mug. And time to anticipate my experience.
There is a slight bitterness that seems more like a challenge to your senses. It alerts you that this is an imposing tea, not for a casual drinker or even a casual approach. There is a rich smell of fruits and nuts, even a slight hint of good alfalfa hay, but that description doesn't come close to the complexity of the cup.
This tea is everything I hoped it would be. A golden liquor with green edges, an aroma that is toasty and raisiny; it is tannic, but one expects that. Tannic sweetness seems like an oxymoron, but it's just part of the singular nature of this tea. I sweetened mine, but don't overdo the sugar or you'll kill the characteristic Darjeeling sweet fruit. This tea almost screams out for scones, clotted cream and jam. This tea with cornbread was imperial earrings on a colonial pig.
The second brewing was as good as the first. Nuances that weren't noticeable in the big tada at the start peeked out and emphasized the sweet fruit and the nutty underlying character. The second brewing was almost chewable. I'll see how the third cup goes later.
A quick mention of price is probably called for. This tea is a bargain, at $13.00 for 5oz, $20.50 for a 1/2 lb., and $37.50 for 1 lb. To quote Norwood Pratt, "...just buy it." If you are interested enough in tea to be reading this review, you won't be sorry.
This tea is one of a few big guns. Even Wyatt Earp missed sometimes, but he was still a big gun; close was enough to give you a new perspective on life. Is it perfect? No, it's not. Does that matter? That's very subjective and seems beside the point. I am repeatedly reminded of the experience of drinking a not quite perfect grand cru wine. It makes it's own rules and it must be evaluated on its own terms.
Right now I am very fortunate, for I have drunk deeply of Margaret's Hope.
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