Weather continues to challenge tea workers in Darjeeling. Even as the first flush production moves into its final week, reports estimate the shortfall this year to be from 30% - 50% compared to last year's.
Although during winter there is very little precipitation in Darjeeling hills, the few showers that come down during January is crucial for first flush. However, this year there was almost no rain from October onwards, according to industry officials.
Further, the winter lingered (we were not alone in this, North America) and temperatures remained low right until the middle of March. The combination of a dry spell and untimely cold weather during spring meant that the production during March - when most of the premium first flush is manufactured - was most hard hit.
However, in pockets, parts of mainly the "Darjeeling East" district of the tea growing region, the impact was not as acute. In fact there was at least one tea garden reporting increased production.
Sumit Dalan, export manager, Jayshree Tea Co., which owns several tea gardens in Darjeeling, claimed an overall shortfall of 50% in the first flush production. Sounding worried, Mr Dalan said, "The weather was very dry. Even the downpour in the early April was scanty...there was not enough juice in the leaves."
Dalan assured that the quality of premium tea that they had been released in the market was not compromised. Jayshree owns Balason, Puttabong, Risheehat, Singbulli, Sungma, Tukvar.
Risheehat tea estate, manager, Rajeev Kumar, told us that his garden being one of the Darjeeling East garden had gotten off lightly. "We did get some rain unlike other parts of Darjeeling. During March our production was down around 25%, and during April about 10%." He also assured that the quality had not suffered due to the weather.
Arya tea estate official, Sukumar Santra, said his garden's production was lower by around 30%. Our Arya Ruby (the only tea we have received so far) do not reflect the struggles of the season. It is an exceptional first flush. Santra asserted that the "quality of their tea had improved over last year's." And we have to agree.
Yogdeep Gurung, our dear friend and General Manager at Dootheria tea estate, reported Dootheria was ahead in production figures compared to last years. Dootheria is also part of Darjeeling East and had received adequate rainfall. But according to him, Peshok and Lopchu tea estate (in the Teesta Valley district) which is also under his charge, did not do as well.
We understand that the hardest hit was Mirik Valley where you have famed gardens like Singbulli, Thurbo and Okayti. After that Kurseong South (with gardens like Castleton, Jungpana and Makaibari) suffered from scattered and scanty rain. Final reports from these parts are still awaited.
As far as our own first flush offerings are concerned, we are hopeful to have it up on our store by the end of this month. We are as anxious (we have been getting many queries) and can’t wait to share them with you! Thank you for your patience.