28 January, 2021

Why Darjeeling Tea Is Losing Its Aroma

Political instability, workers’ exodus and climate change are robbing Darjeeling tea of its pre-eminence

Tea-tasting session at the Castleton tea factory in the Kurseong Valley in Darjeeling
Photograph by Getty Images
Why Darjeeling Tea Is Losing Its Aroma

They call it ‘the Champagne of Teas’, an epithet commensurate with its awesome prestige across the world. But shelves stocking premium Darjeeling at the gourmet tea house Mariage Freres in Paris lie forlornly empty of their aromatic cargo. Their famed Darjeeling sells at euro 76 for 100 grams, or Rs 57,200 a kilo, but suppl­ies have shrunk lately because of events convulsing the rolling hills of north Bengal 7,500 km away. Haute Parisian palate, it seems, will have to wait.

The 105-day shutdown last year in the hills of Darjeeling has plunged tea estate owners and plantation workers into an unprecedented crisis. Planters who lost at least 70 per cent of their premium first and second flush crop—almost wholly exported—estimate the combined value of the loss at Rs 500 crore.

The dire situation has a precedence. In the mid-1980s, over 1,200 people perished as internecine clashes and violent government crackdowns engulfed Ben­gal’s hill districts during the ethnic Gor­­khas’ agitation for a separate...



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