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The start of Darjeeling First Flush 2015 plucking. At Maharani division of Margaret's Hope Tea Estate.

Darjeeling First Flush 2015 Update

The start of Darjeeling First Flush 2015 plucking. At Maharani division of Margaret's Hope Tea Estate.

Darjeeling first flush 2015 production is off to a slow start. The weather once again is proving to be a challenge; thankfully, it does not seem as bad as last year. Rainfall has been lower than average for the months of January and February, and the temperatures are hovering below normal for the period.

It looks like most gardens are behind by a week or two in the first flush production. However, planters are hopeful that as temperatures climb they will be able to catch up.

Darjeeling first flush is considered some of the best teas by the cognoscenti. After nearly three months of winter dormancy the tea bushes once again start producing new leaves towards the second half of February. Darjeeling tea lovers approach this season, which extends upto the end of April, with great excitement and expectancy.

We know many of you are excited about the new crop, as are we, but nature must to do its thing. Nature has its own schedule which must be honored. So wait we must.

Rajiv Kumar, manager of Risheehat tea garden, reported being behind by around 10 days in first flush production. He has so far managed to produce up to DJ2. “The temperatures have been low with a maximum of 14C-15C (57.2F-59F) and minimum of 8C-9C (46.4F-48.2), which is around 5 degrees below normal. Rainfall has been sporadic, not enough.”

Woman plucking at Risheehat tea estate.

This means that the bushes are not flushing enough. Kumar noted that there “were lot of buds in the bushes but not enough new leaves yet.” The news that you want to hear is that "the taste of the tea is very good this year.” That could be because the lingering winter might be concentrating the juices in the leaves.

According to Kumar, their sister gardens of Tukvar and North Tukvar have only just finished DJ1 and DJ2 production respectively. Sungma, another popular garden, has yet to start. "A little sunshine will help,” is Rajiv’s plea. Let’s pray.

Sumit Dalan, an official of Jayshree Tea Co, which owns a bunch of gardens in Darjeeling, pointed out that the “current season seems to be starting on better note in comparison to 2014.” The latter was indeed a rough first flush season. Planters had to battle drought-like conditions for almost the entire season.

“Early January most tea gardens received a good amount of rain. Thereafter in February the rainfall was intermittent and not enough. So far the moisture stress on the bushes is within a reasonable extent.

The temperature, which was favorable during January, sharply declined in the month of February. The early crop particularly of March depends on temperature and useful moisture. Since the month of February remains exceptionally cold, the early crop will suffer initially but over all first flush should be higher than last year. We anticipate a good April harvest," said Dalan. Yes!

He added that "on the quality front, tea should be better. Since the health of bushes has not suffered much the shoot will be heavier, juicy and with higher dry matter content."

Veteran Darjeeling planter, AK Gomden, discounted any worries about first flush 2015. “Once the soil temperature picks up, the bushes will start flushing immediately and in good volume.” He noted that high elevation gardens had yet to begin their plucking, while the low and mid-elevation gardens had already completed first few rounds.

Yogdip Gurung, General Manager of Dhooteria and Peshok tea estate, said they were currently doing a “group production”. This is when individual gardens do not produce enough leaf to justify running their own factories. So they select one garden into whose factory they pool their leaves for production.

“However, in the next week or 10 days I expect the first flush production to begin in earnest in our tea gardens,” he said.

While Darjeeling first flush 2015 seems to have had a bit of a shaky start, we have faith that it will recover soon enough. Last year the weather was a huge spoiler, and although there were fears of it impacting the quality, the teas actually turned out to be pretty good. Many of you can stand testimony to that. Compared to last year the weather is not as bad, therefore we are expecting the tea to be even better than last year. Stay tuned!

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