Tea time tales

Tea time tales market forces, rather than ecological concern, have prompted some of the owners of the Darjeeling tea gardens to turn bio-organic. Germany, which is the largest buyer of Darjeeling tea, threatened to discontinue buying tea as they felt that the pesticide residual content in the tea produced in Darjeeling is above the prescribed standards. In response, about 25 per cent of the tea estates have started using manure fertilisers and neem-based pesticides as alternatives, according to Ranin Dutta, secretary, Darjeeling Planters Association ( dpa ).

Darjeeling tea is famous for its innate aromatic quality, colour and briskness (sharp taste). Tea-makers attribute these qualities to the peculiar geographic conditions in which the Darjeeling tea is grown. Says Dutta, "It is the combination of the soil, rainfall and altitude of this region, which gives the tea the distinct flavour'. About 76 gardens in Darjeeling produce about 9-10 million kg of tea every year, of which 80 per cent is exported.

"Earlier, our main market was the Soviet Union, who never had any complaints. But with the break-up of the Soviet Union, we had to turn to European countries, "says J P Gurung, president of the dpa and general manager, Warren Tea Industries. Germans have been very particular about the pesticide residue and have threatened to stop buying our tea, he says. The problem has been caused by tetradifon, a pesticide used to fight the spider mites larvae. In a test conducted on one particular batch of tea, one kg of tea contained about 240 micrograms of tetradifon

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