New & NowTea

Why the World's Darjeeling Supply May be at Risk

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Due to political unrest gripping the Himalayan foothills, tea drinkers will start to find their Darjeeling limited. And while some of us lament one less option in our tea cabinets, political agitation continues in the West Bengal region of India.

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, or Gorkha People’s Liberation, a political group mobilizing for an independent state for the Nepali-speaking Gorkha population of West Bengal, initiated the protests. The group's demand for a sovereign nation, Gorkhaland, is the main motivating factor behind increased tensions. Bimal Gurung, the movement's leader, called for the strike earlier this summer, after the West Bengal government's decision to make Bengali a compulsory school subject.

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Because of the general tumult of the region, and inability to access farm lands (due to disrupted public transport), roughly 100,000 workers, many of them Gorkha, have had to halt production for the 57th day in a row. Garden owners estimate a loss of around $40 million.

The protests, and subsequent halt in production, occurred at a particularly critical juncture in the tea leaf’s harvesting cycle. Between March and October Darjeeling fields can be harvested four separate times—these are called “flushes”—with the most important of these flushes occurring at the beginning of summer, around when these protests began.

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The summer flush of the region’s 87 gardens accounts for 40% of annual sales in the region. Without the cultivation of these lands, what is already an expensive tea (known as the “Champagne of teas”) is set to increase in price. Or even disappear from shelves. Supermarkets in Japan, one of the biggest importers of Darjeeling behind the UK and Europe, estimate their shelves will be Darjeeling-less come November.

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"This is the worst crisis we have ever faced. Future orders are being cancelled, and there is no fresh supply. Connoisseurs of Darjeeling may have to soon switch to other teas until the situation improves," said Darjeeling Tea Association's principal advisor Sandeep Mukherjee in an interview with the BBC.

Will your tea habits be affected? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: darjeeling, tea, protests