Kolkata: State-owned Andrew Yule and Co. Ltd on Friday announced that it had sold early harvest, or first flush tea from its Mim estate in Darjeeling district at Rs15,750 per kg, a record price for the garden.

Although only a small consignment of five kilograms was sold to Teabox, an online tea seller, at that price, it is being widely seen as an indication that tea bushes in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts have benefited from the forced rest they got last year due to the general strike, and that the current year could be promising for the industry despite rising costs.

In some parts of Darjeeling, however, the crop is slow at the beginning of the harvesting season because of a shortage in rainfall, according to two estate managers. But the bushes have started to flush, and the production by the end of April will jump to match last year’s volumes, they added, asking not to be named.

Prices are expected to remain firm this year for two reasons, the managers said. There is almost no Darjeeling tea in stock from the previous year. Also, the flush this year is of a better quality.

An official at Teabox said the limited edition Mim White Dew, an upper elevation tea, was launched on the company’s online platform five days ago, and it is being sold at $49.99 for 50 grams, or Rs65,222 a kg at current exchange rates. But it isn’t still the most expensive tea from the current year being sold at Teabox, a start-up formed in 2012.

First flush tea from the Goodricke Group’s Badamtam tea estate harvested in March is being sold at $75 for 50 grams, according to the official, who also asked not to be identified.

Mim is a small estate of around 50 hectares located close to Mirik valley. It produces around 100,000kgs of tea each year.

A distinguishing feature of the White Dew variety of speciality tea is its “delicate floral flavours", Andrew Yule said in a statement, adding that it leaves a “pleasant and lingering aftertaste". But annual production of such high quality tea is limited to a few thousand kilograms only, said a company official, who asked not to be named.

The premium received for the first flush this year is a “feather in our cap", Andrew Yule chairman and managing director Debasis Jana was quoted as saying in the statement.

Late last year, bushes flushed at the end of December at Makaibari tea estate in another sign that the bushes have benefitted from the rest. Harvesting in Darjeeling normally ends by mid November as bushes fall asleep during the winter.

Workers at Makaibari harvested around 50kgs of leaves around Christmas, from which the estate processed 10kgs of sellable tea. It was fashionably christened Yule Flush and sold to Japanese buyers at a “respectable price", Rudra Chatterjee, the owner of the estate had said.

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