For the first time in 156 years, Darjeeling tea ceased to enter the markets worldwide in August 2017.
What started the crisis?
Darjeeling District is the northernmost district of the state of West Bengal. Located in eastern India in the foothills of the Himalayas, it is bounded on the west by Nepal. The Indian Government introduced the Bengalese language as a compulsory subject in the schools of the mountain region of Darjeeling.
As most tea workers in this region are of Nepali descent violent public protests ensued. Tea plucking stopped due to a general strike in June. The second flush harvest halted, factories stood idle. Tea shipments were delayed or never departed from the high Himalayan gardens. Tea production was expected to decline by at least 20 percent due to the protests. Most of the First Flush Darjeeling teas shipped before the June 9th strike, but only 200,000 kilos of second-flush escaped.
What happens to unplucked leaves?
The leaves that were not picked at the right time became unsuitable for the production of high quality teas. The plant requires constant plucking to grow young leaves for second flush teas. Leaving the plants to overgrow will negatively impact the flushes and growth next year. The second flush harvest spans between 40 and 45 days ending in July. The strike hasn't ended by the end of the season.
The largest tea auction houses received only 4% of Darjeeling tea in August compared to last year. Only 40% of tea is expected to be produced compared to 2016. Fresh tea was not expected from any of the 87 tea estates. Darjeeling tea was selling at a 50% higher price at auctions until there was no tea on sale at the weekly tea auction.
How about shortages before?
Previously it was legal to name teas “Darjeeling” as long as 51% by weight was Darjeeling grown. Large tea companies could substitute high-mountain Himalayan teas from several regions.
In 2004 the amount of tea sold as Darjeeling worldwide exceeded 40,000 tonnes. The annual Darjeeling tea production of the same year was about 10,000 tonnes.
So, what is different now?
In 2012 India obtained a globally recognised Geographical Indication mark from the EU. Since 11.11.2016, the term Darjeeling may be used as a designation of origin only for teas which originate exclusively from the 87 tea gardens of this cultivation region (check out our infographic below to see the Darjeeling logo).
How does the strike affect you?
Quality Darjeeling will be harder to find this year and you should expect higher prices. Our advice to stock up on Darjeeling before it's all gone, and then discover Nepalese teas!
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(SOURCES teaboard.gov.in, eur-lex.europa.eu, teanews.com, worldoftea.org, teapedia.org, bbc.co.uk, cnbc.com)