Lover’s Blush missing from dry Darjeeling

Tags: News
Scanty, scattered rains in West Bengal’s Darjeeling tea gardens were like a breath of fresh hope during end-April and early May. But the promise they brought has been belied, for drought-like conditions have again settled in.

It is too late now to appease the rain gods, for the first of four harvest seasons has failed. Tea connoisseurs in the Europe and Japan – and even in the US – will have to do without their refreshing cuppa.

Darjeeling tea has four harvest seasons or flushes -- first, second, monsoon and autumn. First flush – also known by the romantic name Lover’s Blush -- is harvested from mid-February till end-April, while the second flush is from mid-May till end-June.

"The severe lack of rainfall in several parts of Darjeeling has affected the first flush, which accounts for almost 10 per cent of the entire tea crop in Darjeeling. Most of the producers have missed out on that,” chairman and managing director of Andrew Yule, Kallol Datta said on Thursday.

At present, Darjeeling tea – usually black, but also green and white -- fetches a premium price of Rs 600-900 per kg, depending upon the quality.

Darjeeling tea was in fact the first Indian product to get the geographical indicator (GI) tag in 2005, which bars others from using the name.

As per estimates by planters in and around Darjeeling, the crop produced in the premium tea-producing region is down about 30-40 per cent from last year. Ashok Lohia, chairman, Chamong Tee, the largest Darjeeling tea producer, puts it at 50 per cent less.

Darjeeling tea gardens now need intermittent rains every week, he says. For producing good quality second flush tea, the gardens need bright sunny mornings with rain-bearing clouds in the evening followed by a shower at night.

At present there are 87 tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills with 17,500 hectares devoted to tea cultivation. The entire area produces nine million kg of export quality orthodox tea, 65 per cent of which is exported.

While planters are hoping for a better second season, the Indian Tea Association (ITA) is not writing off the fear of another crop failure. Officials of the Darjeeling Tea Association too paint a somewhat gloomy picture, saying one-third of the area under tea cultivation in Darjeeling is still reeling under drought-like conditions with few signs of improvement.

On top of that, there have been wild fires at Norbung, Ambutia and Sepoydhura tea estates owing to the extended dry spell. Not easy to get a cup of tea around here.

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