After recently selling a special lot of the legendary Silver Tips Imperial at $1,850 (around Rs 1.12 lakh) per kg, Darjeeling's Makaibari tea estate has become the producer of the most expensive tea in the world.Varieties of Darjeeling tea have always been connoisseurs’ favourites all over the world, and this latest auction underscores the point once again.
Makaibari tea estate, located at Kurseong in Darjeeling district, is the site of the world's first tea factory as well, established in 1859. Swaraj (Rajah) Banerjee, the fourth- generation owner, has merged seven villages (one of them being Makaibari), to form a harmonious entity, what he calls a bio dynamic tea estate. Makaibari has always produced some of the finest and most expensive teas in the world. The last world record for tea sold at an auction was also held by a batch of Makaibari’s Silver Tips Imperial. In 2007, that batch was sold for a then-astounding Rs 18,000 per kg. In the 1990s, when other Darjeeling teas were selling at $75 per kg, teas from this garden were sold at $400 per kg at wholesale.
An integral part of teas fetching such high prices is the process of tea tasting. This delicate art decides how rich in taste a particular batch of tea is. As Rajah Banerjee (the Rajah of Tea indeed, what with the quality of his teas!) describes it –“sip, swish, inhale sharply, then spit”– tea tasting is as solemn a ceremony as wine tasting. Not only are the acts similar, but in some cases, the prices are comparable too.
Rajah Banerjee at the Makaibari gardens
That the latest record price orders have come from Japan, the UK and the US is noteworthy, according to Tea Board of India chairman, Siddharth. He further said that at a time when the tea industry is grappling with the issues of value addition and brand building, this news has come as a shot in the arm.
Batches of Makaibari tea for tea tasting
Last June, the estate was sold to the Tripura based tea major Luxmi Group, ending more than 150 years of family ownership. However, Rajah Banerjee continues to oversee the operations, guiding the estate with his vision and expertise.
Few realise that Darjeeling tea isn't the only refreshment from this namesake town, but just one of the many that the serene effects of the hills can provide. Moreover, striving to be self-sufficient, the people are now engaging in permaculture, that is, using a multi-tier system of plants and trees to prevent erosion and keep the soil enriched, rather than growing a monoculture of tea. This has also brought back the teeming wildlife that once roamed the hills.
If you are visiting Makaibari, you won’t be disappointed. After sipping your way through a range of the estate’s teas (if you are lucky, under the guidance of the ‘Rajah’ himself), there would be plenty more to experience including trekking, wildlife viewing, and a guided tour through the tea-making process. And make sure to stay at one of the estate’s simple but comfortable homestays to complete an unforgettable experience.
Written by Team M3.tv