Soom tea garden and (below) Lohia in Darjeeling on Friday. Pictures by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Jan. 17: Tea importers in the European Union countries are trying to create a new brand called Himalayan Tea to continue the practice of blending different kinds of brew and dilute brand Darjeeling Tea, the Darjeeling Tea Association has claimed.
In October 2011, the European Commission had registered Darjeeling Tea as a Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) — the first product from India to get the status — and given five years’ time to the European blenders for making the required transition.
This means, till 2016, blenders can mix 49 per cent of any tea with 51 per cent Darjeeling tea and still sell it as brand Darjeeling Tea. But after 2016, only those packets, which contain 100 per cent Darjeeling tea, could be sold off under the brand.
The notification came into effect from November 10, 2011.
Principal advisor, Darjeeling Tea Association, Sandeep Mukherjee, said the blenders in Europe were trying to create a new brand. “They are using the words Himalayan Tea on packets in certain European countries to create a new brand so that they can carry on with the practice of blending various kinds of tea ,” he said. “The use of Himalayan Tea is not rampant as of now but the usage has started,” Mukherjee said at Soom tea garden, 15km from here, where a puja was organised to celebrate the silver jubilee year of the presence of Chamong Tee Group in the hills.
He added that Darjeeling Tea as a brand was still strong. “No one can take over an exclusive and established brand as Darjeeling Tea but then the industry has to keep reminding the consumers about the brand.”
Chamong Tee Group owns 14 gardens in Darjeeling hills and produces 1.4 million kg of made Darjeeling tea every year.
“Chamong Tee Group exports about 75 per cent of its produce,” said A.K. Lohia, the chairman of the group.
The 87 tea gardens in Darjeeling hills produce about 8-10 million kg of made tea annually.
According to the estimates, globally about 40 million kg tea is sold as Darjeeling Tea in any given year. The Darjeeling tea industry exports about 3-4 million kg of made tea every year.
The Geographic Indication (GI) status is set to protect the exclusivity of Darjeeling Tea but parallel brands and blending of Darjeeling tea could infringe upon the exclusiveness.
Industry officials said if blending of Darjeeling tea is stopped, there would be price correction and the rates would go up.
The process of granting a Geographic Indicator status — only the produce of a particular area can be sold using its generic name — had started with India according the status to Darjeeling Tea in 2003 after the World Trade Organisation approved the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights in 1995.
“Since it is mandatory to get home protection, the Indian government passed a Geographic Indicator and Protection Act in 1999. In 2003, India gave the GI status to Darjeeling Tea,” Mukherjee said.