Muscatel isn’t really a tea—it’s a flavor. A very special flavor that characterizes some teas grown in Darjeeling, India.

Darjeeling, a northeastern city in India, is home to 85 tea plantations that generate 7 million kilos of tea per year. Teas from Darjeeling are known as Darjeeling tea, for obvious reasons. And in May and June, some Darjeeling teas have a special flavor known as muscatel.

Darjeeling India

In May and June, cold winds blow into Darjeeling, and along with them, two insects: thrips and jassids.  Thrips and jassids feast on tea plants in a time period known as second flush. But just how do these insects affect Darjeeling tea’s flavor?

World Tea News puts it well:

“In simple terms, these green flies feed on tender tea leaves by sucking juices inside the leaves, resulting in the green leaves turning yellow in color. During this process, a substance called terpene is produced. With some moderate oxidation of terpene during the fermentation process, the tea gains the flavor of muscatel or honey.”

These insects are usually considered pests in other industries, but for the tea industry, thrips and jassids create a special type of tea that connoisseurs love to introduce to their taste buds.

Surender Dalal

Jassid | Surender Dalal via CC by 2.0

The word muscatel comes from the muscat grape, a flavor to which this tea is often compared.

But describing the flavor of muscatel tea is often quite hard. It’s one of those flavors that’s hard to put into words, but you know it when you taste it.

World of Tea asked people who’d tasted muscatel tea to describe its flavor, and these are some of the responses:

“dried raisins with a hay like finish”

“sweet cantaloupe with some honey drops”

“a hint of plum pulp and tobacco”

“a light fragrant note of fresh grapes with a hint of lychee”

“ a mix of aromatic woodsy and sour elements, with a complex after-aroma”

“ a spicy deep fruit taste, almost grilled-peach in nature

“wine, wet fallen leaves & the smell of cedar bark”

If you’re dying to try muscatel tea and give its flavor your own description, here are some options:

1) Castleton Special Summer Muscatel Black Tea from TEABOX

 Castleton Special Summer Muscatel Black Tea from TEABOX

This tea hails from Castelton Tea Estate in Darjeeling, the premier producer of muscatel teas.

2) Puttabong Estate Muscatel Darjeeling Organic Black Tea from American Tea Room

Puttabong Estate Muscatel Darjeeling Organic Black Tea from American Tea Room

This tea hails from the Puttabong Estate in Darjeeling.

3) 2nd Flush Darjeeling Teabags from Lux Tea Company 2nd Flush Darjeeling Teabags from Lux Tea Company

These teabags contain tea produced during the Second Flush in Darjeeling.

If you’re really committed to trying muscatel tea, book a trip to India in June and visit a Darjeeling tea estate yourself!