After producing green tea and turning organic, Tripura has now etched its name in the list of few white tea producers among the Northeast states. Fatikcherra tea estate in West Tripura district has produced white tea for the first time in 2019, making tea traders wonder what other surprises this hilly state has under its sleeve.
Established in 1918, Fatikcherra is a 101-year old tea estate, which started shortly after Hiracherra (1916) in northern Tripura, present Unakoti district.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Fatikcherra tea estate manager Joydeep Ganguly said he hails from Darjeeling, which already has Geographical Indication (GI) tag for tea production, and joined as a tea planter in Tripura in 2016.
“As a planter from Darjeeling, I had experience in different types of tea production including green tea, ulong, white tea, gyukoru (Japanese handrolled green tea) etc. I tried some of these experiences here to see how things turn out,” Ganguly said.
Ganguly’s venture ended with 6.8 kg white tea this year. The entire bulk was sold out in a few days at Rs 5,500 per kg, which is a huge jump by Tripura tea sales standards.
Fatikcherra tea estate usually produces 1.5 lakh kg ‘made tea’ annually. This tea is sold through forward contracts at Siliguri. The price range moves between Rs 300 to Rs 700 per kilo for ‘leaf grade’, ‘broken’ and ‘fannings’ categories.
Tripura’s climatic conditions usually allow for CTC and green tea production. Among other major tea producers of the state, Fatikcherra was certified as 100 per cent organic tea producer way back in 2004. The entire estate now produces only green tea.
However, in tea geography, Tripura’s tea hasn’t really made it big anywhere till now.
The sector has suffered much since the last few years with several estates going bankrupt with no formal export.
Yields from Narendrapur and Mekhlipara tea gardens in West Tripura are now sold under brands like Goodwynn. However, the product has failed to grab the sales graph due to lack of proper marketing.
Tripura Tea Development Corporation (TTDC) Chairperson Santosh Saha said erstwhile Left Front government damaged prospects of the tea industry by turning most of the gardens ‘sick’. He said the incumbent BJP-IPFT government is taking efforts to revive the estates now.
So, when Fatikcherra estate’s Joydeep Ganguly came up with the idea of producing white tea, it was to the relief of SP Agarwal Group, the owner of the gardens.
Tea Board of India Assistant Director (Tea Development) Diganta Barman told this correspondent that he is aggressively trying to market tea produced in Tripura. He has recently got a logo approved for Tripura tea and convinced tribal villagers to grow wild tea near the Tripura-Mizoram boundary.
“We are trying to market Tripura tea in competition with Assam Tea, Darjeeling Tea and other established brands. We have undertaken different initiatives like designing a logo, convincing planters to turn to organic and are encouraging others for trying hands at different tea varieties,” Barman said.
Only Assam and a few states in the Northeast region have successfully come up with small quantities of white tea till now. Tea planters are seeing it as the beginning of a new horizon in the tea industry of the state.
Tripura currently has 58 operational tea gardens, among which 42 are individually owned, three are run by the Tripura Tea Development Corporation (TTDC) and 13 are operated under cooperative societies. Around 3,000 small tea growers also run their tea gardens with government support. Around 6,885-hectare land is under tea cultivation in the state.
According to estimates, Tripura registered 3.58 crore kg green tea leaf production annually till last year. This bulk ends up as 88 lakh kg “made tea” processed in different plants.