Climate change and the global trend of shifting away from agriculture have become major concerns for sustaining Darjeeling’s tea gardens, home to India’s famous amber-coloured brew, says American author Jeff Koehler.
In his book “Darjeeling: The History of the World’s Greatest Tea”, Koehler narrates the origins of tea in Darjeeling, in the heart of the Eastern Himalayas (in north West Bengal), the influence of the British Raj, genesis of the communities in the isolated region and how the industry had spiralled into decline by the end of the 20th century.
“The major issues that have been explored are the Gorkhaland issue (struggle for independent statehood of the Gorkha community), the climate issue and labour problems. Then there are the aspirations of people.
“Combine television and education, you get aspirations. Lot of parents don’t want their children to pluck tea, they want them to go much further than that,” Koehler told IANS in Kolkata during the launch of the book on Wednesday.
Though the Darjeeling gardens only produce only a fraction of the world’s tea and less than one percent of India’s total, yet the tea from this limited crop, with its characteristic bright, amber-coloured brew and muscatel flavours – delicate and flowery, with hints of apricots and peaches – is generally considered the best in the world.
“What makes it Darjeeling tea is its laboriousness, it is hands-on. Its hand plucked and this is what has made it difficult to sustain also because you can never automate it and mechanise it because of this selective plucking,” noted Koehler, who resides in Barcelona, Spain.
Published by Bloomsbury India, the book also includes collection of recipes for tea drinkers.
“Problems are not only about money…there is the global movement away from agriculture that seemed particularly accentuated in Darjeeling because of the isolation. You can’t replace absentee workers because of the remoteness.
“And climate change…they are really feeling it up there. The first flush begins with drought. The rains are same all year around but they are coming for shorter periods of time and are stronger. There are crazy hailstorms and this year, landslides particularly wreaked havoc,” added Koehler.