Review: Thunderbolt Tea Puttabong SFTGFOP1 2009

Black Tea, Darjeeling Tea, Thunderbolt Tea Add comments
Jamie’s Teaview Snapshot
Thumbs up!"My mind and senses both are really engaged by this tea, trying to place and discern the tastes and scents. The tea is quite flowery, almost like a perfume, but completely lacking in any cloying, oily component. The floral quality isn't strictly flowery. You won't sip this and think, "oh, it's a jasmine" or "oh, it's a rose." Instead, the floral sense is more diffuse than that. "
Jamie’s Teaview: 8.5/10
Other Teaviews: Vanessa gave it 5.5/10, Dan gave it 6.0/10, Katie gave it 8.4/10
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thunderboltputtabongThis is one of my few experiences with Darjeeling tea, and I have been looking forward to it with singular interest. This particular tea is a first flush Darjeeling, fresh picked this year, in 2009. According to Thunderbolt's website, a droughty year left tea gardens in Darjeeling in some doubt of whether there would even be a first flush harvest, but rains arrived in time to provide fortunate people like me, and perhaps you, the sheer delight of tasting a very unique tea, and has done a great deal of good for growers, pickers, and distributors whose incomes are much more directly dependent on rainfall than our own. You might also gather from the hefty string of letters after Puttabong that this is a special tea, but as far as I can tell the grading systems for teas tell you more about the size and shape of the leaves being used in the tea than anything relating to the taste or quality of the tea. In this case, the acronym stands for Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, Grade 1. I can't tell you a great deal more about that aspect of the tea, but I can hopefully give you a sense of my overall impressions with some alacrity! Please keep in mind that this is my first ever experience with a first flush Darjeeling and only the fourth Darjeeling from any time of year that I've encountered. I'm not aiming for a literal interpretation of the gospel of Darjeeling here, just the experience recounted; my own view of the miracle!

The tea itself is medium in length. It's a lovely medley of foresty and minty greens, blacks, browns, reds and golds. It's attractive and has a tight appearance. But the scenting of this tea is what really attracts my full attention. The scent is not quite a smorgasbord, but it's busy and engaging. What I smell is perfumey, quite a bit flowery, it's sweet. And with those higher pitched, prominent scents come along a sort of verdant earthiness. It's springlike. The scents are a medley, in keeping with the many colors represented in the leaf.

I am preparing a small pot of this for my husband and I to savor this afternoon. I boil up some water and once at a boil, I allow a minute for it to rest. I've added two teaspoons of this tea to a 16 ounce pot. I allow three minutes for the steeping.

The tea brews to a cider color. It's rather darker than I expected, (not knowing what to expect), but certainly unlike any black tea I've ever brewed. It's lovely. The fragrance is vivid, it's exciting! It's primarily floral to my nose. There's a green quality to it - perky and springlike - and it's got a sweet scenting, as well. My first sips tell me that this is what I've read about when certain teas are described as being complex. There are many levels to the flavor. My mind and senses both are really engaged by this tea, and my taste buds are dancing. My mind is dancing along trying to place and discern the tastes and scents. What I'm coming up with is that the tea is quite flowery, almost like a perfume, but completely lacking in any cloying, oily component. The floral quality isn't strictly flowery. You won't sip this and think, "oh, it's a jasmine" or "oh, it's a rose." Instead, the floral sense is more diffuse than that. It's light, not heavy. Sweetness, too, is quite apparent, underlaid with a lovely astringency that is really quite refreshing. The aftertaste is a little dry. Finally, I pick up a very slight, light honey taste at the rear of the sip. Again, not heavy, but light. Overall, this is a bright, fresh tasting cup.

Tastewise, I can understand why Darjeelings are referred to as the champagnes of tea. My other experiences with Darjeelings have been very enjoyable. I enjoy black teas and rarely find them bitter or unpalateable. But this particular first flush tea really does make you think of champagne. It's special, for one thing. You can't drink it any old time and the Darjeeling first flush is a tea that is recommended to be drunk within a relatively short time. Like Spring, it fades quickly. Also, the taste of the tea does have a bright, dry quality to it that really is reminiscent of champagne. It drinks easily, but to me the tea is far superior in that it doesn't cloud the mind and perhaps it is less superior in that it has no bubbles!

A few last tasting notes. I found the floral character to be the most pronounced taste at the start of each sip. Each sip carried a bitter quality in the middle that was engaging and bracing. The ending note is faintly sweet.

I made up a second infusion of this tea and brewed with like temperature water for 4 minutes. This yielded a very slightly darker cider cup with a considerably toned down scenting. The scent was more a smooth, floral perfume this infusion, without some of the spikey tones, and without the nuance of earthier spring verdancy. Flavorwise, a similar pattern is followed. The tea is smoother overall, with floral notes being most forward but a little fuller this time around. The sweetness I noted is more apparent as the bitter notes of the first infusion have been replaced with a sweeter, shorter finish. The tea still carries a lovely astringency, light but leaving a clean fresh taste to the palate.

As I've mentioned, my experience with Darjeelings in general and first flush Darjeelings in particular is such that I have little to base any comparisons on. So I won't attempt to rank it or classify it in a strictly comparative way. What would be the point? It's completely unlike the other Darjeelings I've tried, and yet shares in some sense a higher pitched sort of tasting; a blending of floral and perfumy notes that is rather sweet and definitely intriguing.

However, this Darjeeling, owing I expect to the singularity and uniqueness of its first flush status, and the really wonderful knowledge that this is a one of a kind tea, literally, is really awake and alive with bustling flavors. It seems to capture some of the excitement that one feels when the snows retreat at last, and the earth and all sorts of insects reappear and the trees begin to pulse again with glowing fresh spring color and LIFE! Yes, summer is sweet. And true, spring is dicey with her charms. She can be petulant about fulfilling her promise with the immediacy that I sometimes crave. But Spring remains to me the most miraculous of all the seasons (note I did not say my "favorite"), and this tea tastes and reflects something like that sensation too.

The flavors dance and there's play going on. It's exciting and alive. I couldn't claim enough knowledge to even begin to rate this tea against another in its class, and frankly, this isn't the most delicious tea I've ever tasted. But it's amazing, and I am a delighted newcomer! I can say that I've discovered a new reason to look forward to Spring.

If you are an experienced Darjeeling drinker, and one who already anticipates with excitement these unique first flush teas, then you really don't need my recommendation to try this one or any other perhaps. But if you are like me, new to this and enchanted already, I can heartily suggest you exchange some of your dollars for a bit of first flush Darjeeling soon, before it is gone. And do it in the Spring or as near to it as you can, to capture the excitement of something new and special for the year! I can't say whether this is the finest example of a first flush Darjeeling, but the mere fact that it is, like all things Spring, gone nearly before you know it and with one never just like another inclines me to enjoy this to the fullest and be glad they are out there to savor.

Very enjoyable all the way round!

As a final note, if you are a great lover of Darjeeling, or are becoming one, you might peruse Thunderbolt's website and consider their member reward program. The program costs $59.00 per year to join, but gives you a flat 20% off discount on all their Darjeeling teas, and that includes a further 20% off on any teas already discounted or on sale. I imagine other special perks go along with that membership as well, like email updates and first dibs on certain items. For someone who especially enjoys Darjeelings, it could easily be money well spent, and would make a superb gift for someone you know or love that is a Darjeeling fanatic.

— To purchase Thunderbolt Tea Puttabong SFTGFOP1 2009, or for more specific information on ingredients or the story behind this particular tea, click here to go directly to the manufacturer's web site.

Teaviews Member: Jamie Jamie Reviewer
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2 Responses to “Review: Thunderbolt Tea Puttabong SFTGFOP1 2009”

  1. Rob Chant Says:

    Wonderful review. I’ve have two first flush Darjeelings from Thunderbolt this year, but, alas, not this.

    My Rating: 9/10

  2. In Review: July 3 – 9 | Walker Tea Review Says:

    […] Thunderbolt Tea Puttabong SFTGFOP1 2009 […]

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