Auction for Darjeeling Tea goes Online, will not be “hand-gaveled” Anymore

The first trial plantation of seed was planted at an altitude of 700 ft. by Dr A Campbell and an experimental nursery was set up in Darjeeling in 1845

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A tea estate in Darjeeling. Image Source: Firstpost (Jeff Koehler)
  • Darjeeling tea comes from only about 87 estates producing about 8 million kilos out of which 2.5-3 million goes directly under Choudhury’s gavel
  • Darjeeling was the last to give into the digital auctioning which took over all the other varieties of tea
  • The first trial plantation of seed was planted at an altitude of 700 ft. by Dr A Campbell and an experimental nursery was set up in Darjeeling in 1845

Darjeeling tea, the most sought after and highly valued tea is still manufactured using the “Orthodox” method instead of the curling, tearing and crushing (CTC) method followed in the plains. The combination of natural factors like the cool and moist climate, the rainfall and the sloping terrains, the soil and not to mention the people of the land makes the tea unique in all aspects. But this year, there has been a slight change in the rituals generally performed. In June the last gavel fell on the live auctions of Darjeeling tea. Darjeeling was the last to give into the digital auctioning which took over all the other varieties of tea.

“Personally, it completely seemed like the sky had fallen. Very few auctioneers wear ties anymore. We ensure we look the way we looked 30 years ago, ”says Anindyo Choudhury Choudhury took who is now probably the last manual auctioneer standing. Choudhury is the auctioneer for J Thomas, the oldest and largest tea auctioneer and broker in the world who has been selling tea since 1861. His office in Kolkata is lined with bound volumes of the Cochin Tea Market report and Monthly Tea Reviews dating back to the 1970s, said the Firstpost report.

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Darjeeling tea comes from only about 87 estates producing about 8 million kilos out of which 2.5-3 million goes directly under Choudhury’s gavel. The rest are sold through private deals. But 40 million kilos are sold on the market as Darjeeling.  “Our company sells about 200 million kilos of tea a year,” says Choudhury. “Only 2.5 million is Darjeeling. But the time it takes to sell that 2.5 million kilos is more than what it takes to sell the other (almost) 200 million. It takes that much nurturing,” says Choudhury to the Firstpost.com.

Tea Garden. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

Choudhury knows most of the people who come every Tuesday to bid. He coaxes the process along, sometimes pausing to gently rib them. He even scolds the buyers if their bid is low. These three million kilos were what held the giant industry as a heritage, a tradition. The relationship between the auctioneer and the buyers and the tea and its people is what made Darjeeling tea special. And now, it has become mechanical in many ways. It may have become more efficient, and may even sell at higher rates but the one ritual that connected the tea to its lovers has become replaced.

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Now, tea buyers can log in from around the country to make a bid. But, J Thomas will have to send out more free samples ahead of time putting a strain on an already tight market. It will also mean that there is going to be a lot of silence- no more noises or squawking, just people looking at computer screens and pushing a button, states the article.

The first trial plantation of seed was planted at an altitude of 700 ft. by Dr A Campbell and an experimental nursery was set up in Darjeeling in 1845. Mazumdar, a tea producer and buyer told Firstpost, that Darjeeling is the “biggest and best-organised gift by the Britishers to India.”

-This report is modified by Ajay Krishna, a staff-writer at NewsGram.

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  • Aparna Gupta

    As India is heading towards digitization with its Digital India Programme, it is a great initiative This would ensure larger participation and good rates.

  • AJ Krish

    Rituals followed for years are hard to replace. The human touch and the link between buying and selling is now taken over by machines. It is difficult for those who have witnessed and been part of the auctioning to accept the change.