“Darjeeling tea estates had to undergo heavy pruning last year because tea bushes had overgrown as operations were halted due to political agitation. We were anticipating that first flush production will be less this year. But fortunately, adequate rains and sunshine have resulted in better first flush production,” said Sanjay Bansla, chairman, Ambootia Group, the largest Darjeeling tea producer, told ET.
Of the annual Darjeeling tea production of 8.5 million kg, nearly 1.7 million kg is first flush teas. First flush is tea produced in the first two months of the new season, usually more delicate and tender and therefore more light, floral, fresh, brisk, and astringent in flavour. First flush Darjeeling teas are generally less oxidised during processing and may appear more greenish in colour than typical black tea.
“We are hopeful this year Darjeeling will have normal tea production of 8.5 million kg if the weather remains favourable and there is no political agitation,” Bansal added. Last year, industry lost 70% of the production plucking and manufacturing operations in Darjeeling’s 87 gardens were suspended for four months from June to September due to an indefinite shutdown called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha demanding a separate Gorkhaland state. Banks have been reluctant to advance credit to Darjeeling planters because of the severe losses they faced last year. Darjeeling tea producers also burnt cash for the revival of gardens and payment to workers without revenue generation. The industry recorded a loss of Rs 350 crore in 2017.
Darjeeling tea industry had submitted a revival plan to the union commerce ministry which has not yet been approved. “Talks are on,” is all Bansal would say.
However, rupee depreciation has brought some relief to the planters. Sheo Shankar Bagaria, past chairman of Darjeeling Tea Association said “Rupee depreciation will be favourable for exporters. This will enable us to cover the rise in wages of our workers. However, some UK buyers are trying to renegotiate prices with us.”Darjeeling tea planters upbeat over good first-flush rates