Some time ago, when we stumbled upon the pleasures of cold brew Darjeeling, my wife expressed a fancy for bottling Darjeeling perfume. The leaves of the first flush tea, after a cold brew, smelled so exquisite that had we the means, we’d have right away underwritten efforts to realize my lady’s dream.
We have just found out we were fortunate to be unfortunate in this case. It appears that in recent past renowned global luxury brand Bulgari folded up its plan for “Darjeeling Tea fragrance for men” faced with trademark violation notices by the Tea Board of India. No matter the messy legalese that this must have been, we are thrilled that for once Bulgari perfumers and we thought alike about Darjeeling tea!
So why would the Tea Board of India (a government regulatory body) stop Bulgari from making Darjeeling Tea perfume? The answer lies in the challenges Darjeeling tea has faced to maintain its exclusivity in the global market. A lot of marketers and even some producers, abused Darjeeling - recognized as a high quality black tea “champagne of teas” - as a brand.
A lot of cease and desist notices regarding the use of word Darjeeling were issued by TBI through their agents abroad after Darjeeling gained recognition as a Geographical Indicator (GI) in 2003. Under the GI Act, only tea produced in the region of Darjeeling - a small hilly tract in the eastern Indian Himalayas - could be called Darjeeling. Just like champagne has to be from the French region of Champagne; the rest is just sparkling wine.
Big tea distributors - many located in Europe - had been blending Darjeeling tea with teas from other parts of the world and passing it off as Darjeeling tea. Some had no Darjeeling at all creating unique situations where “Darjeeling tea made in Ceylon” were being sold in the market!
The situation was so egregious that while Darjeeling produced around 10 million kgs of tea annually, globally around 40 million kgs were being sold under its name.
Even reputed tea retailers like Republic of Tea argued in the court that Darjeeling was a “type of tea” and it did not necessarily have to come from Darjeeling. RoT lost the battle to save its trademark “Darjeeling Nouveau” in 2006.
Last December the European Union gave itself five years to phase out the use of the word Darjeeling to describe teas that do not have 100% Darjeeling tea. The time-frame suggests how entrenched the practice is of selling Darjeeling blends as Darjeeling.
There has also been some amusing situations, like a French lingerie brand called Darjeeling winning the right to retain the name. The exotic seductiveness of Darjeeling certainly can be appreciated in more ways than one!
Read this wonderful article on this issue published last December in the New York Times, and let us know your thoughts on the issue.