Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Disappearing Tea Companies: Fresh Darjeeling Tea

This post is about a tea company that, unfortunately, has disappeared...presumably it is now closed.

In late fall of 2009, I received three samples from Fresh Darjeeling Tea, a company, started and run by Sonam Paljor Lama, selling exclusively Darjeeling tea. The company shipped directly from India, and specialized in what I would consider to be true artisan tea: carefully-selected, single-estate, single-harvest teas of unusual varieties and with unusual characteristics. Pictured here are all but one of their offerings:

This collage, which I constructed from the thumbnails saved on RateTea, shows the astounding diversity of teas offered by this company. Although some of these teas look a little bit like other Darjeelings, many of them do not. Of the company's 13 offerings, 5 were Darjeeling oolongs, two were Darjeeling white teas, one of which was in the silver needle style, and one was a Darjeeling green tea. But even the black teas were unusually interesting.

I corresponded with Sonam Paljor Lama, and he was very friendly; I was also very impressed with his level of knowledge of Darjeeling teas.

My experience of the teas:

When I opened the three samples from Fresh Darjeeling Tea, shipped directly from India, I was immediately struck by the freshness of the aroma; although green tea, especially fresh green tea, often smells grassy or vegetal to me, these teas had a certain freshness that I usually only ever encounter in actual live plants...a sort of smell of leaves and plant juices.

Upon brewing them, I was initially a bit overwhelmed by the vegetal character of all three teas. But the sample sizes were large, and I soon acquired tastes for two of the three samples (one I cared a bit less for). You can read my reviews of Golden Wire - GhopalDhara, Monk's Reserve - Castleton Estate, and the Soureni Organic Oolong. To this day, the Soureni organic oolong remains my favorite Darjeeling oolong.

The tea gardens and the traditions of them still exist:

I have not seen or heard from Sonam Paljor Lama in a long time, so I have no idea what happened with this company. It is a sad fact of business that an overwhelming number of businesses close or go out of business during the first two years of operation (usually during their first year). Although I was very sad to learn some time ago that this company was not still in operation, it gives me peace of mind to know that the tea gardens that produced these teas still exist. There are a number of companies that sell single-harvest, single-estate Darjeeling teas, including special batches of unusual teas like the ones pictured and described here.

How about you?

Did you try any of these teas? Do you have any information about what happened to this company? Have you ever tried these teas, sold through other companies? Which companies do you prefer to buy artisan Darjeeling teas from?


  1. Darjeeling Tea Xpress has great teas! I have had a collection of their second and autumn flush teas and I was very impressed!

  2. Lochan teas! Had some wonderful first and second flushes from them this year, the second flush was only 3 weeks old when it got poured into my cup. It really was pretty amazing. Prices are excellent (really, you must compare, and you'll see what I mean.) Shipping was very fast.
    Other than that I'm looking to see if I can get more info on your guy, I found signs of him still being around, though no longer as a seller. All LinkedIn and F/book/twitter posts were over a year old. I'll let you know if I find out more.

  3. Hi Alex,
    Great to read about Sonam and Fresh Darjeeling Tea. Sonam is a friend of mine who studied here in Darjeeling at Mt. Hermon's school. We were in constant contact, but as of 2011, I haven't heard from him. I have heard that he has opened up a tea shop in Goa, another city in India. Must be in Goa busy with his tea business, but can't be sure!

  4. Thanks! Tony Gebely also told me that Sonam had opened a shop in Goa.

    I hope he and his business are doing well.

    And thanks everyone for the suggestion of companies to buy Darjeeling from. I have also had Darjeelings from Thunderbolt tea and Upton Tea Imports, with good results for both.