Darjeeling first flush tea likely to be hit by prolonged dry spell

The production of Darjeeling first flush tea is likely to be severely hit this year as a prolonged dry spell in the hills may cut into this premium tea output.

The first flush crop in the Darjeeling hills, known as the world’s most expensive tea, constitutes around 20 per cent of the total production in the hill town in a calendar year. Because of its high quality and price, this premium tea accounts for around 40 per cent of annual revenue for Darjeeling tea producers.

“The situation is very dire for the first flush tea this year. Darjeeling is facing one of the worst droughts in many years. The hills hardly got rains for more than five months,” Indian Tea Exporters’ Association Chairman Anshuman Kanoria told businessline.

Need rain in a week

Significantly, Darjeeling tea depends on rains and favourable weather for both quantity and quality of first flush, which marks the start of a new season.

“Due to the prolonged dry spell, mid and lower elevation bushes are already under stress. Higher elevation bushes are less impacted so far. We need rain within one week, otherwise the situation would be worse,” Kanoria said.

Also read: Iraqi purchase lift orthodox tea sales in Kochi auctions 

Plucking of the first flush tea generally starts in the middle of March and continues till the first week of May. According to planters, this year the crop is delayed by around one week. In 2023, total production of Darjeeling tea stood at just over 6 million kgs (mkg), marking the lowest output ever recorded. Contrastingly, in 2022, the hills yielded 6.9 mkg of the brew.

Production dip

The tea industry has been witnessing a gradual fall in production for over a decade now. In 2011, tea production was 9.14 mkg, while it was 8.13 mkg in 2016. Production in the hill town has been impacted by climate change, labour issues, lower productivity and profitability, according to industry insiders. Facing financial crises, many planters have sold gardens in recent years.

Planters said the current drought situation will add to the problem of Darjeeling tea industry.

Producers of the brew have been requesting the Ministry of Commerce and Industry for “protection” from dumping of cheap duty-free tea from Nepal. “But nothing is coming,” they said.

Notably, Europe and Japan are the two large overseas markets for this premium tea, the first product to get a geographical identification (GI) tag in India.

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