The best tea of 2022
It was, indeed, a tea for two.
One of my biggest achievements this year was creating a blend. And I could not have done this with as much success without my Badamtam Moonlight - a high-grown, all organic first-flush Darjeeling white tea.
Cultivated from plants that grow along ridgelines that reach almost 6000 ft above sea level, this is about as high as tea can flourish. Harsh as the conditions may be, holding their ground, overlooking the long spread of the snow-capped Himalayas, tea plants here have learnt to grow slowly with their enduring surroundings. The plants lend themselves to the terroir and terroir to it. In so far that the teas readily take in all of that high mountain quality we know and love - of humility, of stability, of quiet calm. Badamtam moonlight is all this. And more.
Steeped, the tea is mellow but firm. Ample notes of hay, oak, and white flowers enter the cup but with a certain stoic restraint, revealing themselves with great gentleness. No one flavour toils for your attention, but the whole does. And it is this quality that assured me that Badamtam can make a great base for the blend I had in mind.
This blend was made for someone. So the choice of ingredients was very particular: because they enjoy floral flavours, I knew I wanted to use flowers in this blend. And to mark their big, colourful, and distinctive personality, I needed accessory ingredients with enough sharp peaks. It had to be a cup that was exciting from the first sip!
Before any blending happened, I started by imagining the end. What do I want these flavours to come together as - what should the blend evoke? What should it point to? In this case, it was a celebration - one that I wanted marked by reckless boldness and bright colours.
Then I imagined how they should experience it.
What would I want them to taste first - the lift-off? Cardamom - it’s bright, complements sweetness, and has a knack for attacking the senses. But not to the extent of overpowering it. We’ll use a whole pod to control the flavour release.
What would I want for that steady middle - that central, lingering note? Rose! A striking floral I know they’ll love - it’s their kind of sweet - and it has a way of hanging on to the palate. We should use rose buds, not petals, to ensure a robust flavour in every cup.
And then the descent - what should live as the base - an ingredient that’s equal parts flavour and flatness. Fennel? No, it will fight the cardamom for the first move. Saffron - yes! It’s festive, rich, base-y, and without intense peaks. And proven to work with rose and cardamom.
To bind these together, I needed a tea that allowed for all this assertion without being assertive itself. It could pose and gesture sure but it needed to unify flavours, first and foremost. I also needed this tea to take on an additional burden - of showing me. My mastery, my thoughtfulness, and my intimate study of a human being. I needed a tea that could survive the strain of such gesturing without losing itself. To show it to such a pitch that it’s evident but not so much that the blend becomes about me. It had to honour them, through and through.
Badamtam Moonlight lived up to every one of my expectations. It welcomed my strict choices and filled residual spaces with lots of tenderness. In doing so, it balanced the flavour peaks and, as a result, the final cup.
Sure, I will love it for how it allowed me to tap into so much discovery, development, and delight. I will recall it for all it helped me mark. I will cherish it for the joy it delivered to its recipient. But I will remember it most fondly for reminding me to trust my instincts.
Interestingly this was 2021 first flush Darjeeling white tea being used and consumed in 2022. I’d tried it when it first came out. It was divine then and divine now. A reminder of how when you create something with great care and attention, they have a way of lasting.