The price fetched by a variety of speciality tea — Rs 39,001 — has been described as a world record by the Guwahati Tea Auction Centre. How is tea, including this variety, auctioned?
Seller & buyer
Manohari Gold Specialty Tea is produced by Manohari Tea Estate, Dibrugarh, and the line that fetched the record price was sold by Contemporary Brokers to Saurabh Tea Traders of Guwahati. The variety was prepared by C K Parashar under the guidance of Rajan Lohia, owner of Manohari TE, who described the variety: “The leaves are like crystals of gold. It was a work of art — and the outcome of hard work.”
Lohia said only 50 grams of this variety can be produced in a day, with “hand-plucking of very delicate buds” only in the early morning. For context, there are some varieties of which 20-25 kg can be plucked in a day.
Saurabh Tea Traders found this variety after looking for prices in that range. Company owner M L Maheshwari says they have bought 2 kg, of which 1 kg would be sent to a boutique in Ahmedabad and 1 kg to a corporate client.
“You can ask seniors in the tea industry — and everyone will agree that such a variety is extremely rare. Log kabhi dekhe nahin honge aisi chai,” Maheshwari said.
“Auctioning is the best way to know the value of the tea. If only the buyer and seller interact, the true value might not be known. But in auctioning there are brokers involved who even taste and give their opinion,” said Dinesh Bihani, secretary of Guwahati Tea Auction Buyers’ Association. Many brokers are certified as tasters by the Tea Board.
India has six tea auction centres —Kolkata (the oldest, set up in 1861), Guwahati (1970), Siliguri, Kochi, Coimbatore and Coonoor.
Indicators that buyers look at include appearance, quality/strength of the liquid form, aroma and “keeping quality” — how well the tea will keep if stored for a long time in a shop or godown.
“A tea buyer will get orders from parties that tea within such and such a range is needed. Then he receives samples through the broker and sends these to these parties, who then quote a price based on their knowledge or opinions from tasters,” said Maheshwari, the bidder at the auction. “There was a party from Delhi whom I had sent this Manohari Gold Specialty Tea and their final price was around Rs 31,000. So, on the one hand there is quality, but on the other it depends on whether the interested party realises the value of the sample you have sent,” Maheshwari said.
How it sells
“Any registered member of any auction centre can operate in any auction in any centre. A buyer registered in Guwahati can purchase tea in an auction in Kochi,” GTAC secretary Bihani said. The process consists of tea being taken from the garden to the warehouse, where brokers do tasting and sampling. Their valuation data is then entered on the Tea Board of India’s auction website.
The Guwahati Tea Auction Centre (GTAC) has 665 sellers, 247 buyers and nine brokers, besides 34 warehouses, registered with it. Auctions are held normally on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The GTAC has an auction hall but, Bihani says, “everything is online” for the last 8-9 years.
“This (the record price) will encourage other quality tea producers to make good quality tea and send it to GTAC, which is now a hub for speciality tea,” Bihani said.
Assam accounts for nearly 55% of India’s tea production.