Record high prices will continue

The Kanoi family of Kolkata has been in the tea business since 1917, owning and managing as many as 42 tea gardens in Assam and eventually getting into cultivation, processing, trading and packing of tea. Growing up in the culture of tea, Rishav Kanoi, the scion of the Kanoi family, started his own venture, The Tea Trove, in 2012 for selling freshly packed tea directly from the tea cultivators and blending them into unique and sophisticated teas. It is the only company in India offering spot blending of tea, herbs, spices, flowers and fruits to customers. Speaking to Ritwik Mukherjee, Rishav Kanoi explains why first flush tea is such a rage while highlighting pricing issues.

What would you attribute the soaring prices to? Or, is it routine?

There was almost no Darjeeling tea in stock from the previous year and the flush this year is of a better quality. Then, the modern tea retail business model of ours and Teabox, where we source the highest quality tea directly from tea growers to give our customers the experience of freshness and authenticity that good loose tea has to offer, eliminates all other resellers. It allows us to give tea growers a good price for their quality produce as per the value we can create for their teas in our stores. Those prices are generally not governed by the prevailing auction prices for the teas of a particular estate. 

It is very healthy for the industry as it improves market sentiment not only for a particular estate but overall. Pricing was earlier dependent on international buyers and blenders. We can expect many more records to be broken by many amazingly great tea producing estates not only in Darjeeling but also in Assam in future. 

Do you think tea bushes in Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts benefitted from the forced rest they got last year because of the long general strike?

Tea Estates in Darjeeling had to undergo heavy pruning last year because tea bushes had overgrown as operations were halted due to the political agitation. That's why this year’s flush has been of a better quality. Adequate rain and sunshine have resulted in better First Flush production.

What is your take on the quality of the First Flush tea in this belt and elsewhere this year?

Mim Teas had been regular in our tea portfolio till last year. However, this year we have changed our garden portfolio and we have added Mission Hill Tea Estate situated at 1,300 ft to 2,500 ft elevation in our offering. They are consistently making quality First Flush tea. Their First Flush Black, White and Oolong teas have been highly appreciated by our customers across all our The Tea Trove stores in Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore and Pune. We have also added to our portfolio many small tea growers from incredible growing regions in Darjeeling still unknown outside of their province. They will be launched with the launch of our revamped website www.theteatrove.com soon.

Going forward, how do you see tea output moving up, keeping in mind that the crop was slow at the beginning of the harvesting season, mainly due to shortage of rainfall?

As tea estates in Darjeeling had to undergo heavy pruning last year, I expect good quality tea produce overall compared to previous years , a good Second Flush crop and end crop extending to mid-December.

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?

I expect production to be very good this year. However, prices for quality tea will always remain firm. It’s the non quality which will feel the impact in price as production improves this year post Second Flush.

Besides Mim White Dew, which are the other tea variants that are being sold at fairly high prices?

Some of the best selling Darjeeling Tea Estates are Makaibari T.E. whose record of  Rs.19,365/kg for 5 kg of luxury tea last year is still to be broken, Glenburn Exotic, Namring Tea Estate and Badamtam, to name a few.