5 August 2014
In the months approaching this year’s First Flush in Darjeeling the weather looked promising: sun with a little rain here and there. The early Spring conditions warmed Winter’s dormant tea fields slowly back toward growth mode and the mood was optimistic. But then the warm-up ground to a halt and temperatures remained relatively low, nights were exceptionally cold and cloudy skies not only brought no rain they also reduced the essential hours of sunlight to stimulate the flush. By the time I arrived in Kolkata at the end of March there was already gloomy talk of a bad season. The season simply wasn’t starting and the plants remained dormant for an excruciating two extra weeks at the most critical time of the year. I have come to expect such meteorological trouble in recent years as conditions have been short of ideal for quite a few years now.
Travelling around in the hills every garden was reporting between 33% and 50% of their regular yield. Once it did finally warm up in mid-April there was still no rain so a simple, late-start ‘offset’ of 2 weeks was not on the cards. Gardens with irrigation were doing fine, providing their water source was not dried up. The plants in most gardens went back into early, emergency, ‘banji’ (dormancy) to reduce damage and preserve their resources. Aside from poor yields quality in most gardens was also poor. My over all quality-score for the season was around 6 out of 10. As with recent years a handful of growers, those with a closer sensibility to the condition of the fresh green leaf coming in to the factory, were able to adapt their manufacturing process to create good teas. In some cases the unusual stress factors in the fields resulted in exceptional teas with unusual flavour profiles. A thin silver lining to the ‘dark-cloud’ economical impact of a year of such short supply.
At times like these over 20 years of network development, tasting and buying experience are essential tools to lay hands on the precious highlights of the Himalayan First Flush. I am happy to say that we have an excellent, very diverse, selection of both classic and clonal Darjeelings despite the very difficult season.