Harrods happy with valley tea

Darjeeling, May 28: From court cases and crores in dues to a tie-up with the best-known department store in the world — Happy Valley Tea Estate has turned its fortune around in just two years.

Today, the tea garden earmarked a portion of its plantation for exclusively supplying handcrafted Darjeeling Tea to the Knightsbridge Store of Harrods in the UK.

Sanjay Bansal, the proprietor of Happy Valley, said: “We will sell the exclusive handcrafted tea from a special one-acre section of our plantation, known as Snowfields, to Harrods. The very fact that they are willing to take our tea gives us the stamp of high quality as Harrods has the strictest standard in quality control mechanism.”

Representatives of Harrods today visited the garden in Darjeeling and tasted eight handcrafted varieties of tea named Special While, Cloud White, Imperial White, Golden Snowflakes, Silver Snowflakes, Snow Mist, Snow Pearls and Millennium.

“We prefer second flush as the first flush has a shorter shelf life,” said one of the representatives, H. Rahman.

Handcrafted teas are made of one bud and leaf instead of two leaves and a bud, withered and hand-rolled into shape before they are dried. Every batch of the product is expected to have a different flavour and characteristics. “The production cost of handcrafted tea is almost 10-20 times the normal cost. Wastage is also very high (because everything is done by hand) but the teas fetch good prices,” said Bansal.

Normal production cost of Darjeeling Tea is around Rs 250 a kg.

The garden hopes to produce about 200kg of each of the handcrafted teas this year along with 30 tonnes of normal teas.

The Knightsbridge Store of Harrods was set up in 1849 — five years before Happy Valley came into existence — and always had “a special interests in tea”. “We have tie-ups with almost 22 gardens in Darjeeling, but we are looking to take handcrafted teas from Happy Valley,” said Rahman. Harrods already sells different varieties of tea from the hills, like Opulence Darjeeling Okayti Treasure and Darjeeling Castleton Muscetal Tea.

The department store has not specified how much handcrafted tea it will import from Happy Valley, but is expected to take about 40,000kg of Darjeeling Tea a year from the various gardens in the hills.

Harrods will also market the product in Japan. The produce from Happy Valley is also likely to feature in a month-long publicity campaign that Harrods will launch in London from September 1.

“We are extremely happy in tying up with Harrods as it has huge brand equity and the visibility of our brand will also be enormous. We are looking for a tie-up with Harrods whereby its niche customers can come and stay at our garden where tea tourism is expected to come up soon,” said Bansal, who is also the chairman of the Darjeeling Tea Association.

Bansal has been instrumental in turning around the fortunes of Happy Valley after buying it in 2006. Before that, for nearly a decade, the garden had been declared “sick”. It ran up around Rs 2 crore in dues and got embroiled in more than 50 court cases.

"Happy Valley has come a long way since then. As production is low in this garden, we have decided to go for exclusive products so that Happy Valley can be made viable,” said Bansal.