In India, we need to amend this Chinese saying to “a good political situation, good mountains, and good water produce great tea,” based on the political squabbles presently going on in Bengal and its tea-growing belt of Darjeeling, Dooars, and Terai and the adjoining Assam and Bihar. Ripples will be felt as far away as America and Japan, as these are the best price paying markets for Darjeeling teas of late.
Just eight months ago, Mamta Banerjee came to power, ousting a 34-year-old communist regime and purportedly settling the Gorkhaland issue by signing a peace agreement that set up an administrative interim body called GTA (Gorkhaland Territorial Authority). These actions are now festering into a lengthy brawl that includes certain plains into GTA and have many concerned about the quality of tea during the coming years.
In the past, dispatches of teas and tea samples have been stymied by strikes and other tools of political unrest, affecting the quality, quantity, and economics of tea in the hills. This is likely to continue, as the unrest seems to be spreading to adjoining areas with more and more groups flexing their political muscles to wield their power and influence.
A tea garden manager, who is at the center of everything, has to perform despite every natural or manmade calamity, but prevailing political conditions seem to be spiraling out of control. As one of the tea garden owners puts in a very cordial note:
“I live in Darjeeling and have been slogging it out in the tea estates since 1980. We work hard to produce the best teas that we can, it is then sent to the Kolkata auctions for sale. Our brokers taste the teas, they show it to the merchant exporters and besides evaluating our teas they then give us comments on the quality of the teas and how, maybe, we could have done better. ?The way the auctions and the trade are structured (buyers, auctioneers, tea garden owners are all located in Kolkata and the tea producer/manager in the farmlands), the NEGATIVE ATTRIBUTES of the TEAS are MAINLY HIGHLIGHTED. These reports hardly ever reflect the years and hours of hard work that a planter/farmer puts into his temple of meditation to create a product that millions enjoy, day in and day out. The merchant exporter buyer, after listing out all the negative attributes of the tea, does put in a bid, but one which is considerably lower than what it is worth. ?Anyway, sorry for the mundane details, but for us farmers this is a medium through which we have gained RECOGNITION and appreciation. We have been able to export miniscule quantities of our teas directly to our consumers who have appreciated them. We have been able to educate our consumers and importers on the finer aspects of tea production and cultivation and for me this is my REMUNERATION AND also my COMPENSATION PACKAGE.”