Darjeeling first flush tea could be scarce this year, since the April or first flush production, rendering the finest quality, has declined to 0.66 million kg from 0.92 million kg during the same month last year. This has happened due to a prolonged dry spell. Early plucking, in most cases for want of cash, has also done damage to the quality.
“In case of Darjeeling tea, it is a Catch-22 situation this season. Quality production requires due time for tea leaves to grow before plucking. But, garden owners being cash starved will pluck early, though some gardeners will have obviously waited to get a good quality,” Atul Asthana, managing director and CEO, Goodricke Group, told FF. A good first flush crop fetches more than 35% of a year’s entire revenue of Darjeeling tea sales. But, this year it would not be so because of lower volume and quality, he said.
Darjeeling first flush plucking generally takes place between March and April though some pluck during February-end as well. Production this season has been 50% low at 0.66 million kg, compared to the same season in 2019 at 1.28 million kg (industry doesn’t want compare 2021 figures with 2020 as gardens were closed from December 2019 to mid-April 2020). Most gardens owners were cash constrained since last year’s first flush was also hit, forcing planters to “strike a balance between cash flow and quality”, Asthana said.
However, West Bengal’s overall production during April this year was above 18 million kg, compared to a little above 9 million kg during the same month a year ago. Auction prices in both March and April were more for the Jalpaiguri and Dinajpur varieties at Rs 144 a kg and 163 a kg, respectively, than that of the Darjeeling variety at Rs 135 a kg and 157 a kg, respectively, for bought leaf factories.
Assam auction prices in April for bought leaf factories were also higher than March prices at an average of Rs 185 a kg, against an average of Rs 142 a kg. All India auction prices in April went up to an average Rs 167 a kg from an average Rs 137 a kg in March.
Prices for the best quality tea from across the country will be discovered through a special auction at all the auction centres this month, for which the special edition plucking (one bud two leaves) under the supervision of the Tea Board has already been done on the International Tea Day, a Tea Board official said. The global and domestic market trends for super premium quality can be gauged from the forthcoming auction, though hand-crafted Darjeeling varieties may fetch a much higher value than the auction value since those are privately exported, said a member of the Darjeeling Tea Association.