Golden brew: Rare Assam tea bags world record price at auction

An employee arranging tea leaves for a tasting session in Dibrugarh, Assam, on July 31, 2019.
An employee arranging tea leaves for a tasting session in Dibrugarh, Assam, on July 31, 2019.PHOTO: AFP/ASSAM COMPNAY INDIA LTD

GUWAHATI, INDIA (AFP) - A rare Assam tea has sold for a world record price at auction in India, highlighting a boom for speciality teas while the industry as a whole is in crisis.

A 2kg lot of Maijan Orthodox Golden tea sold for 141,002 rupees (S$2,787) or 70,501 rupees per kilogram on Wednesday (July 31).

An unidentified Belgian trader bought the tea through a local agent, an auction official said.

Guwahati Tea Auction Centre secretary Dinesh Bihani said it was a record price at auction, shattering the 50,000 rupees a kilogram paid for some Manohari Golden tea the day before.

Buyers from Germany, Britain, the United States and Iran are active in the Assam market and higher prices are believed to have been paid in private sales.

Maijan Orthodox comes from 100-year-old bushes on plantations owned by Assam Company India, one of the world's oldest tea enterprises.

The company is bouncing back from having been declared bankrupt last year when it was taken over by Indian tycoon B.R. Shetty.

"Rich in aroma and briskness, Maijan Golden offers a unique and exotic experience," Assam Company India director Sanjay Jain told AFP.

Production is a tedious process, however, he added.

"The buds are plucked on specific dates depending on climatic conditions, rolled by hand and dried in sunshine," Mr Jain said. "The whole process is very natural and there is no machine involved."

He said that only 35kg of the tea was produced this year and just 2kg were offered at this week's auction.

"We are very happy with the record price. It indicates that there are buyers for quality tea and this is a good news for the tea industry in Assam," he said.

Assam Company India has 14 gardens across the north-east state and produces more than 10 million kilos a year of black teas and other varieties including Jasmine.

While Maijan Orthodox and other rare speciality teas from the region are booming, the Indian Tea Association this week appealed for state and central government aid to keep up prices of more ordinary products.

It wants the authorities to ban expansion of tea production in at least five key areas.

The association paid for newspaper advertisements which said the tea industry, which employs more than one million people, is in crisis.

"While the average selling price has almost remained stagnant, the average cost of production is increasing leading to incurring of loss by the gardens," the appeal said.

The Indian Tea Association also appealed for public funds to promote Indian tea and for the fixing of minimum prices at auction based on the cost of production.

Assam accounts for more than half of India's tea production, with more than 650 million kilos coming each year out of the state's 850 tea gardens.