Tea plantation. Photo: Shutterstock
Speciality or luxury tea producers among the Darjeeling plantations had a good start to the year, as the prices in private sales went upward.
Compared to the normal Darjeeling tea, which sells at Rs 700-1,500 a kg for whole leaf and Rs 300-500 a kg for the broken and fanning variety, speciality teas, considered as luxury items, normally sell at Rs 6,000-14,000 a kg.
Makaibari Tea Estates was able to craft five kg of luxury tea from its Kurseong plantation, which sold for Rs 19,365 a kg ($302) in a private sale, its best price realisation from the first flush (first plucking of a plant's harvest season) until now. Goodricke Group was able to sell 20 kg of white tip luxury tea from its Badamtam plantation at Rs 12,900 a kg. Namring Tea Estate, owned by the Poddar Group, was able to increase its price realisation from luxury tea by 10 per cent this year at Rs 11,000 a kg.
Glenburn Exotic got Rs 10,000 a kilo for a 24 kg lot, while Rohini Tea Estate —Darjeeling’s youngest garden — fetched nearly Rs 5,500 a kilo for a 48 kg lot it sold in a private sale. Sugato Dutt, a director at Subodh Brothers, a luxury tea exporter to America, Europe and Japan, opined the increase this year was primarily due to the weather in March. “The rains were erratic during the first flush, which affected the crops, resulting in loss of estimated volume. As a very limited quantity of luxury tea has been made available, buyers are willing to pay more for the limited volume,” he told this newspaper.
officials and he felt luxury tea prices would remain upward this year. For example, the prime muscatel tea from Goodricke Group’s Castleton estate has risen above Rs 7,000 a kg from the earlier Rs 6,700 a kg. White tea from the Margaret Hope garden scaled up by 13 per cent.
“Luxury and prime tea from the Darjeeling gardens have a loyal and different set of buyers, who look for quality and are ready to pay exorbitant prices. This type of tea doesn’t react to market forces but depends on quality and the volume offered,” said Dutt.
The price of such teas are worked out in the same way as its usual counterpart. First, right after the harvest, a garden appointed tea taster provides an estimate, based on the taste. The garden then proposes to sell the lot at that price.
However, when the buyer sends his own taster, the estimate is generally revised downward and the final price calculated. The cost of production for such luxury tea is 10-12 times higher than the usual ones. “To produce 20 kg of luxury tea, one needs to pluck at least 200 kg of leaves,” S S Bagaria, chairman of the Bagaria Group, told this newspaper. Only the buds are used to process luxury tea; the leaf is generally discarded.
Rudra Chatterjee, director at Luxmi Group, which owns the Makaibari estate, added that this year so far, the quality of luxury tea had been superior.
officials also said that over the past five years, the demand for such tea had tripled. However, they added, the spike in luxury prices doesn’t indicate better health for the overall Darjeeling tea industry.
Nearly 80 per cent of the 8.13 million kg of Darjeeling production is exported and producers have been hit by the rising external value of the rupee. After a big crop loss at the start of the year (an estimated 700,00 kg loss), the industry is hoping that production in the second flush period (May-July) will be normal.