Tea estates in Darjeeling are very aware that organic sells. Some tea estates convert their whole operation into an organic one, while others simply can not afford the high costs that are needed to apply for certification. It takes about three years for inspectors to certify a tea estate as organic. But considering that the "health-conscious" tea drinkers in the U.S. have increased seven times in the past five years, going organic can be a smart business move for many estates in Darjeeling.
Tea estates that have not gone organic emphasize that their teas meet the MRL (maximum residue limit) that Japan and Europe demands for all tea exports. Keeping their teas under the MRL opens up their teas to markets that pay a premium for tea (i.e. Japan and Germany). Determining if a tea has reached the MRL or not requires multiple tests on one product, which translates into a financial burden for tea estates.
Japan now classifies the MRL into two categories, making the process even more involved. Abiding by the MRL is considered to be so strict and expensive that tea planters often choose not to go organic because it would drive up the cost for the consumer in the end.
Even if the teas are not organic, most tea plantations I visited use sustainable methods for fertilizing soil with cow products (dung cakes) and vermiculture.
At the Thurbo Tea Estate in Darjeeling, they produce both organic and conventional teas (MRL). Because they have to accommodate both types of teas, their facilities were very large.
You can see that they keep all the machinery labeled and separated.
Bulk teas before going into hand sorting:
During our visit we tasted Thurbo's variety of teas, both MRL and organic.
In all honesty, I could not tell the differences in taste between the certified organic, and MRL teas.
Tasting with Senior Manager JD Rai
Here is a Darjeeling green tea that Thurbo produces:
More grassy and wild than a Japanese sencha, this green tea was hand-rolled and smelled young and fruity.
Thurbo was very picturesque. Their estate is situated on a bunch of rolling hills facing north, as opposed to one steep hill. The elevation at Thurbo ranges from 2500-6000 feet.
Organic tea plants are planted on road shown closer to us in this photo, while the conventional plants are planted on the other side of the road.
Enjoy all the posts of Darjeeling Discovery:
Goomtee Tea Estate
Junpana Tea Estate
Castleton Tea Estate