Text: Rachel Kwek Si­t­u­ated

Asian Geographic - - Front Page -

at the foothills of the Hi­malayas in the state of West Ben­gal, Dar­jeel­ing is home to one of the most cov­eted tea va­ri­eties in the world. Dar­jeel­ing tea es­tates cover over 17,500 hectares and pro­duce over nine mil­lion kilo­grammes of tea each year. Around 50 per­cent of the peo­ple in the re­gion are em­ployed in tea pro­duc­tion jobs.

Tea cul­ti­va­tion only be­gan in the late 17th cen­tury when the Bri­tish took ef­forts to un­der­stand the art and sci­ence of it. Dr A. Camp­bell first planted seeds of the Chi­nese tea vari­ant, which he brought from Ku­maon, in Dar­jeel­ing at an al­ti­tude of 700 feet.

In 1845, the In­dia gov­ern­ment set up an ex­per­i­men­tal nurs­ery and started an­other at Le­bong two years later. Com­mer­cial tea plan­ta­tions in Dar­jeel­ing started in the 1850s and 113 plan­ta­tions, cov­er­ing 18,888 acres and ac­count­ing for a pro­duc­tion of 3.9 mil­lion pounds, were set up by 1874.

A num­ber of en­ter­pris­ing planters took over and tea cul­ti­va­tion rapidly pro­lif­er­ated across the foothills of the Hi­malayas and the hills of South In­dia (now known for Nil­giri tea). Over time, cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices are passed from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion and the rich legacy of the In­dian tea in­dus­try is un­par­al­leled any­where in the world. In­tro­duced in 1986, the Dar­jeel­ing brand has come to rep­re­sent a hall­mark of ex­cel­lence with the dis­tinc­tive flavour unique to tea grown in this re­gion. The tea plant has very spe­cific re­quire­ments in terms of soil and cli­matic con­di­tions. In­dian tea is pri­mar­ily cul­ti­vated in the hills of North-eastern and South­ern states at an al­ti­tude of 600 to 2000 me­tres. The cool and moist cli­mate of this moun­tain­ous re­gion bor­der­ing Nepal, Bhutan and Ti­bet gives Dar­jeel­ing tea its mus­ca­tel flavour — a taste James Nor­wood Pratt de­scribes as ‘a unique mus­cat-like fruiti­ness in aroma and flavour’. ag

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