The Arya tea estate has a fascinating history, even among the many that dot the Darjeeling region, especially because of its original name – Sidrapong.
According to legend, the original site was home to Buddhist monks on an unknown pilgrimage in the mid-to-late 1700s. They were looking for a place to build a new monastery and somehow ended up in Darjeeling. The monks, then, planted a garden with various Chinese seeds and dubbed it “Sidrapong”. To date, I have yet to come up with an exact translation for this. And believe me, I looked. The nearest thing I could find, after consulting several sources, was a claim that it meant “house on fire” in the old Lepcha language.
Eventually, the garden was renamed “Arya” – a Sanskrit word meaning “noble” or “respected”. In 1885, it was transformed into a tea garden, presumably by the British. Over ten years later, the garden became home to a new tenant – a technological one.
The first hydroelectric plant in all of India, dubbed The Sidropong Hydel Power Station.
The power station changed ownership a couple of times, and was active until the early 1990s. It celebrated its 100th birthday in November of 1997. Around the same time, the Indian government declared it a heritage site.
Thunderbolt Tea’s Benoy Thapa (and entourage/family) attended a “puja”, or the equivalent of a christening, for a new resting house that was put in at the Arya estate. While there – and over tea and conversations with the estate’s manager, one Mr. Roy – the subject of the hydroelectric plant came up. It was decided during this conversation to name a tea for the heritage site. And thus, Sidrapong Tara was born.
“Tara” means “star”. So, if the old Lepcha translation for “Sidrapong” is to be believed, this tea’s name means “Star of the House on Fire” That’s . . . kind of awesome.
The leaves were really cool to look at. And smell. I think I groaned a little when I put nose to bag. Their appearance wasn’t typically Darjeeling-ish at all. They were brown, gold-tipped in some places, and wiry, reminding me more of a Fujian province black tea – like Yin Jun Mei – or a Keemun Gongfu from Anhui. (That means nothing to those of you not in the know.) Point being, it looked very different. The smell was very second flush, though, betraying notes of sweetened macadamias and grapevines. Like . . . the actual vines.
For brewing, Thunderbolt Tea recommended doing this for three minutes as opposed to five. Well, as luck would have it, that was the average time I steeped Darjeelings, anyway. I heated a kettle to about 200F, put a teaspoon of leaves in a gaiwan, poured ‘em over, and waited for three.
The liquor brewed dark amber, bordering on copper (but not quite). The aroma was all muscatel grapes and residual sweetness, exactly what one would expect from a second flush. Where it differed considerably was taste.
Normally, second flush Darjeelings do their whole “I-taste-like-grapes” thing, then impart a bit of their estate’s terroir for good measure. Well, I suppose I don’t have a good grasp on Arya’s terroir, yet, because every darn tea I try from them is different. The forefront of this was sweet, followed by a slight dry note, but that smoothed out in a soft-textured, fruit-flavored top note, which then trailed off to a finish of medium malt. When I think of a quintessential second flush Darjeeling profile, I think of this – exactly this, to the note.
I don’t know what else to say about it, other than it kept me “powered” throughout the entire day.
No, I’m not taking that pun back.