So – have you heard the news yet?
Brace yourselves…. There’s a Darjeeling tea crisis coming.
Since June this year, Darjeeling has been under a ‘Bandh’ [general strike] due to the Gorkhaland political unrest. Some 100,000 workers in affected tea gardens have hence halted work, resulting in one of the worst seasons ever for the so-called Champagne of teas – Darjeeling.
Production has been so severely hit that only an equivalent third of last year’s mammoth 8.32 million kg crop has been harvested, despite an increase in global demand, yet this may only be the beginning of the effects on the Darjeeling tea industry.
If teas aren’t being picked, the Camelia sinensis plants will start growing into trees which then require extensive time and effort to reduce to their optimum height. Once weeds become rampant, production lines are no longer maintained, and buyer confidence falls, there is a fear that some Darjeeling tea gardens will fall into permanent disuse.
So far this year, only the first flush has been harvested, missing the most popular and lucrative second flush.
Many local families are dependent on the Darjeeling tea estates for their income, and so I cannot guess the catastrophic impact this must have on them. I’m not knowledgeable enough on the politics of the region to offer comment on the conflict, and feel it would be disrespectful to do so. However, from a tea-growing perspective, even if the conflict is resolved quickly, it’s going to take many years for the tea gardens to get back to full production – if they even all survive.
In the meantime, grab your Darjeeling while you still can, but take care that it *is* actually Darjeeling you’re getting. There’s a joke in the tea world that there is twice as much Darjeeling on the global market than is grown in Darjeeling. This is despite protection by the ‘Geographical Indication’ legislation, which regions like Champagne also enjoy.
Hence, you should always buy from reputable suppliers like the Bari Tea Brewery.
Darjeeling is often referred to as the Champagne of the tea world – but like wines, a good sparkling white wine is better than a bad Champagne. The same is true of tea.
With the mass shortage of Darjeeling tea, many enthusiasts will be searching for a tea of similar taste.
What they’re looking for is something with a similar ‘terroir’. In short, this refers to the environmental conditions in which the tea plants are grown. Rainfall, level of sunshine, soil type, altitude, pitch of slope, etc all make up a tea’s unique characteristic – not just area to area, but growing year to growing year.
Darjeeling is in the foothill of the Himalayas, in West Bengal region of North India between Nepal and Bangladesh. Places with a similar terroir include Sri Lanka, Nepal, and mountainous areas of Africa such as those in Kenya.
These are all likely to see a boom in popularity of their teas now, but it will take time for them to react to the market, as new plantations will need to be established, further labour skills brought in, and routes to market developed.
If you’re looking for a similar characteristic, I point you towards our lovely regulars:
This year’s Bari Tea Festival on 16th & 17th September 2017 – our contribution to the marvelous annual Alnwick Food Festival – is therefore based on the opportunity to appreciate the Darjeeling tea.
We’ll also be offering a range of our similar terroir teas. However, we just get small quantities of these guest teas for the tea festival, so they won’t be available to buy online – just to taste in the Tea Brewery with a few restricted numbers of tea packets in store.
Be clear, we’ve seen this sort of tea crisis before – eg with the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. This effectively shut down the surrounding Japanese tea industry for several years due to export / import bans through fears of radioactive contamination. Several of the skilled tea growers in the area were attracted to relocate to both old- and new-world tea plantations. Their unique skills and experience helped to produce interesting Japanese-style teas grown in completely different parts of the world.
The distress in Darjeeling could well provide an opportunity for equally marvelous, but less well known, tea estates around the world to enjoy a greater profile and gain new fans over the coming years.
We’ll be looking out for these opportunities for the Bari Tea Brewery over the coming months and years.
In the meantime, we’ve bought – literally – a tonne of our 2nd Flush Darjeeling from the always-great Margaret’s Hope tea garden to tide us over. You can stock up on your supplies here: https://www.baritea.co.uk/buy-tea-online/margarets-hope-darjeeling/.
But as we say in Northumberland: when it’s gone, it’s ga’an….
Some interesting articles here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-40825298 (notice: this is under ‘world-asia’ news. It’ll be on the homepage soon…)
The viability of the Darjeeling tea sector over the next few months and years: http://www.firstpost.com/india/darjeeling-tea-sector-reels-under-existential-crisis-as-gorkhaland-protests-make-cuppa-dearer-rarer-3896285.html
An historic perspective of Darjeeling workers from Kritika Agarwal: http://indianexpress.com/article/research/darjeeling-unrest-here-is-a-history-of-the-gorkhas-and-a-lazy-hamlet-called-dorjeling-4710333/
Please only buy from companies like Bari which support the Ethical Tea Partnership, Fair Trade, or equally recognised certification scheme which ensures that both the environment and its people are respected and cared for while your lovely cup of tea is made.