Among connoisseurs, few teas surpass a good Darjeeling. The smooth and mellow taste commands a premium price, and the name itself evokes a bygone era when the British first introduced Chinese tea plants here in the Indian foothills of the Himalayas. Darjeeling Tea is widely and universally acknowledged to be the finest tea, because its flavour is so unique that it cannot be replicated. Connoisseurs will assert that without Darjeeling, Tea would be like Wine without the prestige of Champagne.
In a decision this year, the European Union agreed to phase out the use of “Darjeeling” on blended teas. Now, just as a bottle of Cognac must come from the region around the French town of Cognac, a cup of Darjeeling tea will have to be made only from tea grown around Darjeeling.
Darjeeling tea is India’s treasured Geographical Indication and forms a very important part of India’s cultural and collective intellectual heritage. The European Commission has registered Darjeeling Tea as a Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) product — the first commodity from India to get such a tag. The status implies that the brew produced only in Darjeeling can be sold as Darjeeling Tea in the European Union countries.
Under international law, Geographical Indications mean indications which identify a product as originating in the territory of a member, or a region or a locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.
The uniqueness of Darjeeling as a place certainly seems beyond dispute. On clear days, the white peaks of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain after Everest and K2, floats over the hilltop city like an ethereal fortress.
Beyond the noisy clamor of the city, many of the steep surrounding foothills are carpeted with tea estates, some planted more than 160 years ago when a British surgeon found that tea bushes thrived in the region’s alpine setting.