Although the original appeal of Darjeeling for the British was as a hill resort with easy access from the plains, inspired by their success in Assam they soon realized its potential for growing tea. Today, the Darjeeling tea industry continues to flourish, producing China Jat, China Hybrid and Hybrid Assam. A combination of factors, including altitude and sporadic rainfall, have resulted in a relatively small yield – only three percent of India’s total – but the delicate black tea produced here is considered to be one of the finest in the world. It is also some of the most expensive with varieties fetching over Rs18,000 a kilo at auction.

Grades such as Flowery Orange Pekoe (FOP) or Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) are determined by quality and length of leaf as it is withered, crushed, fermented and dried. To watch the process for yourself, call in at the Happy Valley Tea Estate; it’s a 30-minute-walk from town – follow the signs from the Hill Cart Road near the District Magistrate’s office. As for buying, try the tea stores on the Chowrasta; The House of Tea on the Mall and Tea Cosy at the Rink Mall offer try-before-you-buy, with the latter’s menu set clearly by the seasons (otherwise known as “flushes”). However, for the best price and an enthusiastic explanation of tea, explore the labyrinth of Chowk Bazaar to find Radhika & Son near the Laxmi Bhandar. Such vendors usually trade in unblended tea bought directly from tea gardens and are able to pick and choose according to quality. The typical cost of a kilo of good middle-grade tea is Rs600–700.

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