According to tea garden owner Rajan Lohia, the production of Gold tea is a tedious and time-consuming process, but special because it is handmade.
A kilogram of Manohari Gold Tea was sold for Rs 50,000 at the Guwahati Tea Auction Centre on Tuesday morning, shattering the record for tea at public auction. The tea was purchased by Saurabh Tea Traders of Guwahati to meet the demand from buyers in other parts of the country.
The highest previous price fetched at public auction for tea is believed to be Rs 40,000 a kilo last year for the Golden Needle variety from the Donyi Polo Tea Estate in Arunachal Pradesh. The same year, a kilogram of Manohari Gold was sold for Rs 39,001.
It is a special moment for everyone at Manohari Tea Estate in Dibrugarh district. Rajan Lohia, the owner of the garden, attributes it to concerted efforts for the past four years.
“This is not something that happened overnight, but the result of our hard work and perseverance for the past four years. We started producing gold tea last year, and this year we have produced around 5 kilos,” said Lohia, who owns three tea estates in Assam—Manohari and Lengrai Tea Estates in Dibrugarh and Suntok Tea Estate in Sivasagar district.
According to Lohia, the production of Gold tea is a tedious and time-consuming process, but special because it is handmade. The group currently employs about thousand labourers in their Dibrugarh plantation spread over 210 hectares.
"Gold tea is produced in the second flush period of May-June, depending on weather conditions. The season is over now. We produce a variety of speciality tea—CTC, Orthodox, Gold, Green and White, Silver Needle, Oolong and Yellow tea. Gold tea is almost 100 percent hand-rolled.”
Octogenarian tea taster and manager at Manohari Tea Estate, Chandra Kant Parashar, who envisioned making Gold tea with the special clone P-126/A, said it is ‘quite flavoury’ and naturally high in polyphenol.
“It is a costly affair to make Gold Tea. We have produced it in a small area of about 30 acres. With God’s blessing, it has fetched a good price this year,” remarked Parashar, who has been serving the tea industry in Assam for 63 years.
He, however, admitted that there are just a few buyers for Gold tea today, and Manohari group is not producing it for profit.
“The Gold flecks have always been there when we manufacture Orthodox tea. The special clone P-126/A is meant only to manufacture Orthodox tea, CTC is not good out of this plant. The buds have a thick coating of pubescence - they absorb the juices of the leaves, and are properly coated with it. During fermentation, as a result of oxidation, the colour changes from green to brownish - on drying, the buds become golden. They are then segregated from the black leaves,” explained Parashar, who does not see a bright future for the tea industry in India.
“We are a low producing plantation. The future looks bleak. Import prices are increasing along with production cost, labour wages and amenities. Every cost is increasing, but the price of tea is stagnant. A slight increase is not healthy at all.”
“The government had earlier stopped the ration for tea garden labourers. For us, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a tea estate,” says Rajan Lohia who appeals to Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to take necessary measures to revive the almost 200-year-old beleaguered tea industry of Assam. Reports say there are more than 850 tea estates and over 2500 tea gardens in Assam that covers thousands of acres of land.
(With inputs from Tomas Buragohain)
First Published: IST