Last month state-owned Andrew Yule and Co sold early harvest, or First Flush tea from its Mim estate in Darjeeling district at Rs 15,750 per kg, a record price for the garden. Although only a small consignment of five kg was sold at that price to Teabox, the well-known online tea seller, many think that it is a clear indication that tea bushes in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts have benefited from the forced rest they got last year due to the general strike. Speaking to Ritwik Mukherjee of FC, Atulit Chokhani, founder and CEO, The Tea Shelf, explains the reasons for the focus on Darjeeling tea.
What is so special about Darjeeling tea?
We don’t see any sudden spurt in prices. Darjeeling’s First Flush has always fetched fancy prices. Every Darjeeling tea estate, gives a unique tea with distinctive aroma and taste which is classically dependent on prevailing weather conditions in different valleys, altitude and the type of treatment given to the bush during winter.
Do you think the tea bushes in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts benefited from the forced rest after last year's general strike?
As a fellow planter, it definitely was a nightmare for many Darjeeling planters . But, the industry is now showing signs of blossoming.
As far as the forced rest is concerned, yes the bushes were left unplucked for almost six to seven months . This forced rest must have rejuvenated the bushes much more than the winter rest of three to four months, which is generally given, and added two factors, earlier harvest and prolonged harvest.
What is your take on the quality of First Flush tea in this belt, this year?
Generally the First Flush quality from Darjeeling this year has been better than last year. That may be the result of last year's rest.
How do you see tea output moving up?
Tea is a seasonal industry and a bush capacity to generate the ideal crop largely depends on many organic and inorganic conditions over a period of time. Darjeeling is predominantly an organic industry and we personally don’t see any increase of crop over 2016, definitely over 2017 but that’s only because of the strike.
What about the stock position with regard to Darjeeling tea? And what do you think about the price movements in future? Do you expect prices to remain firm in the months to come?
As already mentioned, there is practically no rollover stock of Darjeeling tea. Prices should be firmer in view of no carry over of stock and better quality being produced this year.
Besides Mim White Dew, which are the other tea variants that are being sold on fairly high prices?
Most estates have distinctive markets, and every garden eyes opportunities to sell most of their produce at fancy prices.
Some of them are, the Goodricke Group (Thurbo ), Chamong Group (Tumsong & Lingri), Ambootia group and the Jayshree Gardens (Singbuli). They have special batches of Silver Tips and Whole Leaf Grades which have fetched them up to $400-500 a kg or more. In fact, we had bought a special batch of Makaibari Silver Tips at Rs 11,000 a kg very recently.