(Last Updated on : 16-01-2014)
The Darjeeling tea estates are not only massive tea plantations but also one of the major tourist attractions of West Bengal. There are a number of Tea Estates in Darjeeling and its neighboring areas. Happy Valley Tea Estate, Avongrove Tea Estate, Makaibari Tea Estate, Nagri Tea Estate, Glenburn Tea Estate and Soureni Tea Estate are some of the most famous tea estates in Darjeeling. According to authentic records, the first commercial tea gardens planted by the British officials were Tukvar, Steinthal and Aloobari tea estates. These plantations were estabilshed in 1852 and these plantations used seeds that were raised in the government nurseries.
Initially tea cultivation in Darjeeling was a labor intensive enterprise that required sufficient number of workers to plant, tend, pluck and finally manufacture the produce. For this tender job, employment was offered to people from across the border of Nepal. By 1866, Darjeeling possessed 39 gardens producing a total of 21,000 kilograms of tea. In 1870, the number of Darjeeling tea estates increased to 56, thus producing around 71,000 kgs of tea harvested from 4,400 hectares. During 1860-64, the Darjeeling Company was founded with 4 gardens. By 1874, tea cultivation in Darjeeling was found to be a lucrative venture and more than 113 gardens, encompassing approximately 6000 hectares were allotted for only tea plantations in Darjeeling.
Presently, there are 86 tea gardens in Darjeeling, producing 'Darjeeling Tea' on a total area of 19,000 hectares. The total production of tea ranges from 10-11 million kgs annually. The Darjeeling tea industry at present provides employment to more than 52 thousand people on a permanent basis; while a further 15,000 persons are engaged additionally during the plucking season which lasts from March to November.
History of Darjeeling Tea Estates
Tea plantations in Darjeeling began in 1841 by a Dr. Campbell, a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service. Campbell was transferred to Darjeeling in 1839 and used seeds from China and started experimental tea planting, a practice that he and others continued during the 1840s. The government also established small tea nurseries during that period. Commercial exploitation began during the 1850s.
The first annual general meeting of the Darjeeling Planters Association was conducted in 1873 to discuss the problems of Darjeeling Tea Estates. Later in 1892, The Darjeeling Planters Association was founded. The association was allied to the Indian Tea Association (I.T.A) in 1910. During post Independence scenario, on 1st December, 1951, Darjeeling Planters Association in their last meeting unanimously decided to dissolve the Darjeeling Branch of the Indian Tea Association (D.B.I.T.A). Later they decided unanimously to form a sole independent Association to discuss their common affairs. On 20th day of December, 1983 the "Darjeeling Planters Association" was formed under the able chairmanship of Mr. S.K.Basin, dissolving D.B.I.T.A. Darjeeling Planters Association is one of the essential members of the "Consultative Committee of Plantation Association"(CCPA) In India.
The business affairs and funds of the Darjeeling Planters Association are managed by the Governing body that is headed by the chairman chosen at each Annual General Meeting of the Association. However, the registered office of this association is at Netaji Subhas Road in Kolkata. The association has its branch office at Darjeeling. The affairs of the Branch are run by the General Committee selected at each Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the branch that is held alongside with the AGM of the Association. The association declares that the tea cultivated, grown, produced, manufactured and processed in the hilly areas of Sardar Sub-Division, the hilly areas of Kalimpong subdivision comprising of Ambiok Tea Estate, Samabeong Tea Estate, Mission Hill Tea Estate and Kumai Tea Estate and Kurseong Sub- Division excluding the areas in jurisdiction list 20,21,23,24,29,31 and 33 comprising Siliguri Sub-Division of New Chumta Tea Estate, Simulbari and Marionbari Tea Estate of Kurseong Police station in Kurseong Sub-Division of the district of Darjeeling in the State of West Bengal, India, can be termed as "Darjeeling Tea".
Darjeeling tea, produced at the tea estates of Darjeeling is expensive and exotically flavored. This tea when brewed has a distinctive, naturally accruing aroma. Darjeeling Tea is grown and produced specifically in the hilly areas and slopes of Darjeeling district. Darjeeling Tea is widely and generally accredited to be the finest tea because its flavour is unique that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. Grown in an idealistic and mystical mountainous region of Darjeeling at an elevation of 750-2000 meter, the Darjeeling tea is imbued with an unparalleled appeal and quality. Grown in century old tea gardens, these tea estates of Darjeeling can be singled out by the irregular rainfall, sunshine and moisture laden mellow mists. The soil is rich and the hilly terrain provides natural drainage for the generous rainfall it receives.
Even the owners of these tea estates are well aware of the status and never compromise with the quality of cultivation. One can enjoy the aroma by picking only the finest two leaves and the bud to enhance the unique flavour which has been described as 'Muscatel'. The Darjeeling tea is gifted with these natural elements and the simple fact is that only 10 million kg of Darjeeling Tea is produced annually by the entire Darjeeling District to create the global magic amongst tea lovers. Devotion to this high quality profile is seen in all the tea plantations. The Darjeeling Planters has never succumbed to the temptation of increasing yields at the expense of quality and makes every possible effort to ensure the highest quality standards.
The flavours of Darjeeling Tea differ from season to season. According to the plucking period, the season can be categorised as follows -
Eastern Flush (March-April) arrives just after the quiescent winter months. The leaves are gentle and very light green in appearance. The liquor too is light, clear, bright and imparts a lovely brisk flavor.
Spring Flush (May-June) is famed flavour for its prominent quality. The leaf has a purplish bud. The liquor is more round, mellow and with more color (amber) and has a slightly fruity flavour. It is during this period that the famous "Muscatel" flavor comes into prominence.
Summer Flush (July -September) flavour is produced when the nature of the liquid changes, becoming stronger, yet holding back the brightness and character that Darjeeling is best known for.
Autumn Flush (October-November) is the flavour, when the tea has a light coppery tinge and liquors have a delicate character.
To combat adulteration and falsification, the Tea Board of India administers the Darjeeling certification mark and logo. The common logo used by the Darjeeling Tea Estates is a property of the Tea Board of India. It was launched in 1983 and is a symbol that verifies that the packet and caddy contains 100% pure Darjeeling, without teas from any other growth. There are certain procedures prescribed by the Tea Board of India to be followed strictly to get permission for the printing of the Logo on a product. All the Darjeeling tea estates producing packets have a Darjeeling Tea Logo "Darjeeling" or "Pure Darjeeling" or "100% Darjeeling"- must be mentioned.
Some of the popular estates in Darjeeling include Glenburn, Chamong, Lingia, Jungpana, Castleton, Makaibari, Arya, Margaret's Hope, and Risheehat. Output and the quality of tea vary with the altitude. Most of the Darjeeling tea estates have China or China hybrid plants; however some tea estates in Darjeeling at lower elevations have Assam hybrids too. Every tea garden has its individualistic tea processing factory. The use of chemical fertilizers in tea gardens is being reduced to a minimum and some of the Darjeeling tea estates have gone organic with no use of chemical fertilizers at all. Inspite of the problems and the adversities in a fast changing world, Darjeeling tea estates are determined to maintain and improve the unique quality which has made Darjeeling tea renowned as the finest in the world.
Tourists will be missing a large part of their enjoyment if they don't visit any of the tea gardens of Darjeeling. They are sure to get the best opportunity to cherish the beauty of nature and simultaneously soothe the eyes by the lush greenery while visiting the Darjeeling tea estates. The background becomes more captivating when the early morning fog gets trapped in the tea plants. The local tea pluckers are mostly Nepalese and are very amicable who often work as tour guide in the Darjeeling tea estates. The Happy Valley Tea Estate is the most accessible tea estate from the Darjeeling mall (closed on Monday). Some other nearby tea gardens in Darjeeling are at Balasun, Aloobari, Dhajea and Ambiok.