Kochi: Three students from France, the world’s biggest producer of wines, are treading through tea estates in West Bengal studying the business of Darjeeling tea, considered the champagne of the east. Over two months, the three students will learn about processing, tasting and marketing Darjeeling tea, at a budding tea school in Siliguri, a hill town by the Himalayas.
“We had heard a lot about Darjeeling tea and wanted to explore the land that produced it and know the people behind it,” says Legastelois Marine, a student of international trade from Lycee Bremontier University in Bordeaux.
“There is a growing market for tea in France and the rest of Europe,” adds Galaud Marjorie from the same university. “When we get back, we will look at getting jobs in the tea industry after completing our studies.”
Added flavour: (From left) I.D. Singh, director of the Institute for Plantation Science and Management, with French students Legastelois Marine, Dreyer Audrey and Galaud Marjorie.
Dreyer Audrey, also a student of international trade, at the Lycee Fresnel University in Caen, hopes the hands-on training will help her land a job. “I don’t want to limit myself to France and would like to try my hand at jobs outside the country as well,” she says.
The tea school started last year with one student, as part of an effort to promote premium Darjeeling tea globally, says Ankit Lochan, director of Lochan Tea Co., which runs the school. “Our buyers worldwide complained about a dearth of professionals trained in the tea business,” says Lochan.
The school’s first student, Vincent Moreau from Paris, had approached Lochan last September to learn about Darjeeling tea. Over four months, Moreau was trained in all aspects of the tea business—cultivation, blending, tasting, packaging and marketing.
He returned to Paris and set up the Darjeeling Luscious Tea Co. and a speciality Darjeeling tea shop, directly importing tea leaves from India.
Lochan Tea is now set to train seven more students this year—five from France and one each from Australia and England. “Next year, we hope to have more than 25 candidates,” says Lochan.
The company is devising a formal course in consultation with experts from North Bengal University’s Institute for Plantation Science and Management, which runs a course in tea management. The tea school charges $300 (about Rs12,800) for the two-month course and plans a $1,000, six-month course from next year.
“The exercise will have a spiralling effect in promoting Indian tea globally,” says I.D. Singh, director of the plantation science institute and a resource person for the company’s training. “The ones we train will not only carry the word around, but also help set up marketing channels for exporting Indian tea worldwide.”
“The big bane of Darjeeling tea has been that promotion started very late. By then China and Sri Lanka were already there,” says Ronen Dutta, who was secretary of the Darjeeling Planters Association for more than 23 years till 2002. “There has not been sufficient education on Darjeeling tea, its special features, and why it is sold at a higher price. This venture of Lochan will help change the perception that this tea is not just any other brew to be drunk as part of a comfortable habit,” Dutta added. Like champagne is not just any other wine.
The Indian tea speciality got a boost last year when it earned the geographical indication (GI) status, a global recognition of its exclusive quality and characteristics that can be attributed solely to the region in which it is grown.
Darjeeling tea gets its particular flavour from the Himalayan region, where it is grown at an altitude of more than 3,000ft above sea level. At that height, the atmosphere has less oxygen resulting in more oxidants in the tea leaves, says Lochan.
Darjeeling tea, with its distinctive flavour, fetches between $4-9 per kg, depending on the quality, while other regular tea varieties are sold for $1-1.5 per kg. India produces around 10,000 tonne of tea in Darjeeling, of which more than 80% is exported.