Offshoot of Darjeeling tea registration as protected product by EU

Export of Darjeeling tea is likely to get a boost following its registration as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) product from India. The registration was received last week, officials from the Union Commerce Ministry said. The EU made the formal announcement this week.

Although the PGI registration has brought relief to industry regulator Tea Board of India and exporters alike, there is discontent over the fact that the registration takes effect five years later. Indications are that this grace period will be contested by India.

Tea Board officials here said: “The trade had appealed for a five-year grace period saying they needed time to phase out the existing packets now on store shelves.”

It is said that more Darjeeling tea is sold in the international markets than is produced on the slopes of Darjeeling in India, as very often only a small portion of the authentic product is put in packets which contain blends of teas from many other origins.

As per the new registration regime, the teas sold in EU henceforth would have to be 100 per cent Darjeeling tea, the official said.

The official said the Tea Board was pursuing its case and had applied for the registration in 2007. “We painstakingly built up our data base and now the protection has become stronger.”

The unique “muscatel” flavour of Darjeeling tea is preferred by tea drinkers across Europe, which now accounts for 60 per cent of exports of Darjeeling tea. It is regarded as one of India's best-known commodity exports. Commenting on the development, Sanjay Bansal, ex-Chairman of Darjeeling Tea Association and Chairman of Ambootia Tea, said: “European consumers will now get what they pay for.”

Only around 10 million kg of this premium agricultural produce is grown on the slopes of the eastern Himalayas in some 87 gardens spread over 17,500 acres. Some gardens are located 5,000 metres above sea level. The plucking of leaves is done mostly by women.

The EU website says the term “Darjeeling” has been formally registered as a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) product, and has been added to a list of more than 1000 names of agricultural products and foodstuffs protected as PGI or PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). It is the seventh non-EU product receiving the protected status, following on from Columbian coffee and 5 Chinese products.

For existing blends that mix Darjeeling tea with non-Darjeeling tea, the Regulation foresees a five-year transitional period during which the term can continue to be used.

After this period these blends have to change their name.

The GI protection tag for Darjeeling tea is already in force in India. The Tea Board has also developed a Darjeeling Tea logo as it is the owner of all intellectual property rights, officials said.

  • Tea sold in international markets not pure Darjeeling; mixed with teas of other origins
  • As per new PGI registration, all Darjeeling tea sold in Europe will have to be 100 per cent