Quick – name a tea estate. Yeah, me too. Even though I’ve written about tea for nearly a decade, I find that I’m a bit stumped by that one. The few exceptions would be Tregothnan Estate in Britain, and our very own Charleston Tea Plantation, located in South Carolina. Though admittedly these stand out more for the fact that they are tea estates located in countries where such things are not normally found.
One of the few other tea estates that I personally know by name is Makaibari Tea Estate, in Darjeeling. The Darjeeling region of India, though it produces only a tiny fraction of the tea that issues forth from India’s more productive Assam region, has become synonymous for the most part with high-quality premium varieties of flavorful black tea.
As they claim at their web site, in a brief overview evocatively titled The Magical Mystical Makaibari, the estate “is the world’s first tea factory and was established in 1859.” Real Darjeeling tea (as opposed to the substantial amounts that are said to be counterfeited) generally sells at something of a premium, compared to many tea varieties. But some of the teas that come from Makaibari, and in particular their Silver Tips Imperial, take the notion of premium to a new level, with prices that are measured in multiples of many other Darjeeling teas.
As the company notes at their web site, Silver Tips Imperial is the world’s most expensive tea. As they put it, “Two decades of passionate devotion has resulted in the ultimate tea experience. Plucked under full moon beams, the blaze of Silver Tips Imperial highlights the subtleties of Darjeeling terroir, imperiously.”
Which paints a very nice picture indeed, though it should be noted that this and others of the company’s teas can be purchased directly from their site at comparatively reasonable prices. Nowadays the company is passing from the hands of Swaraj Kumar Banerjee, who took over the operation in 1970. Their long standing reputation goes a long way toward explaining why the new owners – the Luxmi Group, also of India – say that Makaibari “is the jewel in what is called the golden mile of the most important grow region in the world. If Darjeeling is the champagne of teas, Makaibari is the Krug or Henri Giraud.”
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