Recently at one of my tea presentations, which was based on Indian teas, a conversation started around some points I had made about the recent recognition and protection of Darjeeling teas under the European Union’s Protected Geographical Identification (PGI). I explained that this protection covered 87 Darjeeling gardens and prevented gardens outside the zone having their teas labeled or sold as Darjeelings. These protections are the same given to Champagne, Cognac and Parma, being famous for their styles of sparkling wine, brandy and ham.
I believed that in time this protection would offer security, premium price for growers, and quality recognition for customers but it may in the initial stages have some teething problems. As with all new systems, someone will always try to beat it and this protection is no different. In Australia you can still see, so called Australian champagnes being sold but the protection system has a person monitoring and educating retailers, restaurants and bars, as to the possible consequences of selling a product under the name of Champagne, which is not grown and produced in the Champagne region of France.
So, it didn’t shock me when I read about the major buyers historically of Darjeeling teas, being the Germans and the Japanese failing to buy their usual stocks at the auctions this year. Instead opting to purchase high grown quality Nepalese teas and promoting them as ‘Himalaya Blends’. These Nepalese teas are not able to command the same market value at auction as a Darjeeling tea, and so offers the purchaser more flexibility. There are also many gardens around the Darjeeling region which do not come under the EU protection system and again can not demand the same types of prices. Eventually this will all even out and will be driven by consumer demand.
As I write this blog, news has come through today of a great success story for one of Darjeelings oldest gardens, Makaibari. 20 kilos of Makaibari’s Silver-Tips Imperial organic tea has been sold to three buyers from the UK, USA and Japan. This special handcrafted tea sold for $1850 per kilo and became India’s most expensive tea ever sold. By the time this reaches the end consumer they could be paying as much as $50 per gram if taking a cup of this particulaly special tea at a five star hotel.
So like many things rare or special, will the consumer have the final say on how this will pan out, I believe they will