Guarding the Darjeeling Brand

Tea Estates in Darjeeling
Tea Estates in Darjeeling

Darjeeling is a region in northern India that’s probably best known for the premium quality black tea it turns out. It’s beloved of tea connoisseurs, but oddly enough the total amount of Darjeeling tea sold in a given year is typically greater than the amount grown. Which sounds impossible at first until you realize that some less than scrupulous tea sellers will substitute a tea of lesser quality in order to turn a fast buck by passing it off as Darjeeling.

Which is a problem for tea drinkers and for Darjeeling’s tea producers as well. According to a recent article in the Indian press there are currently “87 estates producing about 8.8 million kilograms of tea” in the region. While this is a relatively modest amount compared to some tea regions, the old catchphrase about quality rather than quantity is applicable here. For more about the problem of fake Darjeeling tea try this article from a few years back.

According to the more recent article, Darjeeling’s tea industry has been contending with a somewhat similar issue over the years. In this case, it’s not the actual tea that’s at issue but rather the Darjeeling name, which a number of businesses and other entities have tried to hijack for their own purposes. Most recently the Tea Board there has been up in arms over a French lingerie company’s appropriation of the Darjeeling name for its products.

But this is not the first time the Darjeeling tea industry has had to deal with this sort of thing. According to one industry insider there have been nearly 30 such cases settled out of court, including an Italian maker of fragrances and other luxury goods, an Indian hotelier, and a French media concern. At odds here is Darjeeling’s “brand name,” which in reality is known as a geographical indication. Other such well known GIs, or “brands,” that are tied to a specific region are the French winemaking regions of Champagne and Bordeaux.

Interesting to note then, and probably not at all coincidentally, is the fact that Darjeeling is often referred to as the Champagne of tea.

See also:
Disappointing Darjeeling Tea

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3 thoughts on “Guarding the Darjeeling Brand

  1. Honesty in marketing is very important to me, and I see a huge problem as marketing a tea as “Darjeeling” that is produced in another region. I also think it’s a bit shady to use names like this to refer to products other than tea. However, I don’t like the idea of thinking about Darjeeling as a “brand”. Darjeeling is a region, a district of India, not a brand name.

    Is it illegal to name something after a region? When is this and isn’t this acceptable? I think this can be a complex issue and I’d rather see it discussed openly. I don’t like the idea of restricting freedoms any more than is necessary.

    I also think there’s a difference between marketing tea as Darjeeling which is produced elsewhere, and using the name “Darjeeling” in a completely unrelated product where there is no potential for confusion with the tea. Not saying the latter is necessarily okay but I think it is a very different thing from deliberately dishonest misrepresentation of a tea’s origins.

  2. Shiv K Saria

    Darjeeling Tea- Is it really a black tea. It started off that way but today it has more unoxidised polyphenols than even the oolongs. Our First Flush tea is withered hard evaporating more than 67% of the moisture present in the green leaf. The withered leaf is then gently rolled and then immediately fired within 25 minutes of commencement of rolling. It maybe less than 5% oxidised ( similar to the pouchong).
    The nomenclature/classification of the tea needs to be relooked into.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      Totally agree, Shiv. When I see the dry leaves, they are definitely not the same as true black tea. In fact, on my tea review blog I categorize them as totally separate from all other teas. They are truly distinctive!

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