We hope this note finds you healthy as the world tries to combat the spread of COVID-19. This sweeping pandemic has brought most of the world to a halt, including tea production. The timing is particularly sad, because now is when plucking begins for some of the world’s finest tea – Darjeeling. As you may have heard, India has shut down completely for 21 days. Therefore, Darjeeling first flush 2020 tea, as well as tea from Nepal will be a rare commodity.
In a normal year the Darjeeling hills would now be busy with tourists enjoying the clear views of Mount Kanchenjunga (the world's third highest peak), spring flowers blossoming including the gorgeous rhododendrons, and in the tea gardens workers would be fanning out picking the most prized harvest of the year.
First flush tea is what brings to Darjeeling the reputation of "champagne of teas." Its light body full of delicate flavors draws the highest prices of the year for the manufacturers. The lower elevation gardens had begun producing first flush towards the end of February, while the ones at higher elevation had only just begun manufacturing when the shutdown came.
We were fortunate to receive a few high elevation Darjeeling tea samples just before the lockdown. Given the circumstances, sipping the bright crispy tea was an invaluable blessing. We quickly made our selection and reserved a lot of exquisite tea which will be shipped after the lock down period ends.
As you may suspect it is a tough time for the tea garden workers who earn a daily wage. The local authorities in Darjeeling have started a fund for tea workers with money being raised from government employees and other donors. Within two days INR14 lakh ($18660) had been collected. We are keeping an eye on the ground and seeing if there is something we can do about it.
In Nepal, which went into a lockdown mode around the same time as India, the spring tea production has ceased. For our partners at Jun Chiyabari tea garden the suspension came just as they were about to start the year's production. "The health and safety of everyone is paramount. It is the very reason why we are organic in the first place," said Bachan Gyawali, one of the owners of Jun. The shutdown in Nepal is supposed to be for a week but everyone expects it to be extended further.
Spring tea production in most parts of China, barring the Hubei area, appears to have taken off. Workers there are being screened for fever, made to maintain a safe distance during picking and also using additional measures to maintain strict hygiene during the processing have been put in place. Spring tea from China is already available in some markets and we hope to make it available soon at our store.
In Taiwan too, preparations for spring 2020 are underway. According to reports from that country, the pandemic there has been kept largely under control. Like in China they are putting more stricter safety rules in the tea production processes.
This is going to be a year unlike any other. We need our tea to keep our cheer, to stay calm and healthy as well. We will do our best as always to get you the finest teas out there.