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Darjeeling tea production halted as Gorkhas and Bengalis face off


Indian supporters of the separatist Gorkha Janmukti Morcha group demonstrate during an indefinite strike called in Darjeeling on June 19, 2017. Hundreds of protesters paraded with coffins containing the bodies of two men they were were killed in clashes.

DIPTENDU DUTTA / AFP / Getty Images

Indian supporters of the separatist Gorkha Janmukti Morcha group demonstrate during an indefinite strike called in Darjeeling on June 19, 2017. Hundreds of protesters paraded with coffins containing the bodies of two men they were were killed in clashes.

The timing of the political turmoil couldn’t be worse — not only is it peak tourist season in Darjeeling, it’s also second flush tea season.

The world-renowned Darjeeling tea plant yields new leaves at different stages year-round and the second flush stage, typically from May to June, produces mature leaves known for their full bodied flavor, which are highly sought after by both connoisseurs and consumers.

“Second flush teas are typically picked young and constant plucking is required to get the young leaves. But because all Darjeeling tea plantations are currently closed, nobody is plucking any leaves, so the plants will overgrow and quality will deteriorate,” warned Kaushal Dugar, founder of Teabox, an online tea retailer based in Darjeeling.

“Even if tea estates open after a week, constant plucking will be required to get the high quality summer flush tea leaves are known for. That will take at least two to three weeks and by that time, the weather will have shifted and the second flush season will be over.”

Teabox says it isn’t significantly impacted as it purchased 70 percent of its Darjeeling tea supplies before the political agitation started, but international players could have more trouble.

“Bigger brands may have problems as they are not based in Darjeeling and typically buy in bulk from auctions, but if they can’t confirm the level of quality, they may not buy at all,” said Dugar.

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