So, Darjeeling planters are now targeting expats and high net worth individuals in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore to sell these premium teas.
“The UK and Germany are the major markets for Darjeeling tea,” said Binod Mohan, a Darjeeling tea producer and past chairman of the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA). “But due to the second wave of coronavirus, Europe is witnessing a lot of restrictions. So, we have turned our attention to the domestic market.”
Darjeeling First Flush, the earliest leaves and buds harvested in the season, is plucked between late February and early April.
“In India, we are witnessing a boom in cafes and tea lounges. So, we do not see any problem in increasing domestic consumption of Darjeeling tea,” said Mohan.
India produces 7.8 – 8 million kg of Darjeeling tea.
The trade is now focusing on the second flush in Europe. Harrods, London’s ultra-luxury retailer, could place orders for second flush teas that start arriving early May.
“By that time, a large section of the people in the UK will get vaccinated,” Mohan said.
Home demand isn’t too bad, with restaurants and cafes opening up in New Delhi and Mumbai.
Abhijeet Mazumdar, owner of Camellia Twigs, a retail outlet in Delhi’s Indraprastha Extension, said that retail consumption of Darjeeling tea has gone up by 20% in January – February compared with the winter last year.
“Definitely, there is demand for Darjeeling tea in the metros. But buyers are negotiating hard and are looking for discounts. Once the vaccination programme gathers momentum, we will see demand go up further. When the Mumbai airport becomes fully operational, demand for Darjeeling tea will further go up as travellers and high net worth people prefer to drink Darjeeling tea,” Mazumdar added.
Darjeeling tea is produced in 87 tea estates, spread over 17,600 hectares. Darjeeling tea was the first Indian product to get a GI (geographical indication) tag and is exported to 40 countries.
Due to the pandemic induced lockdown last year, the estates were closed for almost 20 days from March 24 to April 14, the peak time to produce first flush teas. When the estates reopened, producers had to prune and clean the tea bushes and in the process, they lost the premium first flush teas.
According to DTA, the loss of production and revenue of the Darjeeling tea industry was 1.5 million kg in volume and Rs 200 crore in value.