Kolkata, July 30: Darjeeling tea, India’s first geographical indication (GI)-protected product, will cease to enter the wholesale markets worldwide, via auction and sales, from the second week of August. This is happening for the first time in 156 years. The Hills tea garden that is closed since June 9 because of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM)-led indefinite strike, will put their last lot of leaves on the block in the first two weeks in the next month.
Industry experts said that the impact on the Darjeeling tea connoisseurs will be felt in retail markets from the third week of September.The prices of Brand Darjeeling are expected to rise as retailers make the most of the stock they have in hand, reports TOI. City based the world’s largest and oldest tea auctioneer, and two other tea-broking firms have received only 201 sacks of tea to be sold at Sale No. 32 in August. However, last year at the same time, they brokered 4,933 packages of tea. Sale No. 32 of the pan-India tea auction refers to transactions on the 32nd week (second week of August) of the year. Darjeeling tea is available on auction across 42 weeks.
“In all probability, arrival of Darjeeling leaves will dry up after Sale Nos. 31 and 32. We do not expect fresh tea from any of the 87 Darjeeling estates,” Krishan Katiyal, CMD, J Thomas & Co, told TOI. He also informed that this was unprecedented as the queen of teas had never disappeared from auctions even during the violent Gorkhaland agitations in the 1980s. Even the private sales, because of which around 80%-90% of Darjeeling tea make it to offshore markets, too, have dried up. “Of the 8.5 million kg of Darjeeling tea produced last year, around 6 million kg was sold by gardens to private customers, several of them overseas buyers. The rest had made it to the auction centres,” said Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA) chairman Binod Mohan. This year, less than 2.5 million kg of tea leaves have been produced so far, of which 85% have been exported.
In Sale No. 29, the pan-India auction system saw only 17,500 kg of Darjeeling tea leaves up for auction against a mammoth 94,500 kg on the same sale last year. Goodricke group, which is the biggest producer of Darjeeling tea with eight gardens in the Hills, sent less than 1,000 sacks of tea leaves for Sale No. 29 last week. “I don’t think there is any tea left in our stock. Sale no. 29 was the last possible avenue to sell and buy fresh Darjeeling tea from us,” said AN Singh, MD and CEO of Goodricke.