Teas from the Darjeeling district consistently command top dollar. For their matchless, highly complex flavor and quality, the teas have earned a great deal of prestige even gaining the title of "champagne of the tea world." Traditionally processed into black teas, Darjeelings have also received recognition in recent years for the less common but equally appealing white, green, and oolong styles.
Darjeeling teas owe their distinctive quality to the unique conditions of the district. Soaring over 5000 feet above sea level in the Indian Himalayas, the gardens are some of the highest in the world. This elevation, cool climate, steep terrain, soil quality, and heavy seasonal rainfall yield an agricultural product unlike any other in the world.
The Makaibari estate itself is a rarity in this land of geographical wonders. In the garden, all of the teas are grown biodynamically, an ecologically pure form of organic farming. In addition, the managers practice permaculture, an integrated system of forest management. Trees cover over 1000 acres, and the tea bushes lie interspersed throughout. This is quite an exceptional style of planting in Darjeeling where the typical garden landscape is dominated by endless rows of tea bushes.
Twice each year, Makaibari turns its efforts toward making small batches of a white tea called silvertips, which gets its name from the color and style of the finished leaves. While silvertips can be produced from the first and second flush harvests, the best and most valuable always come from the second flush. The meticulous attention required to make a tea of the highest quality simply does not make economic sense for the garden during the cash-strapped early months of the first flush season.
This year, the confluence of an extraordinary set of factors suggested to the owner of Makaibari that his garden might yield an outstanding silvertip. When the second flush season began at the optimal time, he instructed the garden managers to prepare for production of the second flush silvertip. Choice bushes were identified and reserved for the white tea. As the second flush began to yield some of the best teas produced in recent years, anticipation of the second flush silvertips began to escalate. The conditions had not been ideal since 1996.
Highly skilled female workers were selected to work on the day of harvest. They worked diligently for many hours by light of a waxing moon to carefully pluck the delicate leaf buds. Expert managers, assigned solely to the manufacture of this batch of silvertips, dedicated their attention to naturally withering, hand rolling, and lightly firing the leaves. Any error made at this stage would have been irreversible - a terrible loss for the garden. When the tea turned out better than anticipated, brokers in Calcutta requested that it be put up for auction.
The Calcutta Tea Traders Association scheduled the tea for Sale 28, to be held on July 14. Everyone first expected the 2003 lot of second flush silvertips to sell within the usual price range. This changed when a European buyer suggested the tea had much more value due to the outstanding 2003 growing season; it might even be able to break the world-record auction price. In 1992, rival Darjeeling estate Castleton captured this title by selling a second flush Muscatel for $380 per kilogram at auction. Additional firms in Japan, Europe, and the United States began to express interest, for a great amount of prestige would be gained by offering a tea of this caliber.
Bidding on the Makaibari Silvertips DJ-131 began with little enthusiasm. Buyers countered slowly, and it appeared that the price would not peak with a record after all. Then suddenly, interest picked up as a new buyer joined in. A representative for a European firm intended to purchase the entire lot! From that point, the bids rose rapidly, suggesting that the price might go higher than anyone had expected.
Action went back and forth furiously but then halted suddenly with our agent's bid of 18,000 rupees ($391.30) per kilogram. The representative for the Europeans had reached his limit. Determined to secure the entire invoice for his company, he dialed furiously on his cellular phone to obtain authorization for a higher price. Attendees could not believe the drama that was unfolding. "Going once... Going twice... " The auctioneer bellowed the closing calls. In disbelief, the agent watched as his cell phone struggled to pick up a signal.
"Sold!" It was too late. The European buyer was crestfallen. Cheers and congratulations echoed through the Calcutta auction house. This was the year. Makaibari had claimed the title and prestige as producer of the world's most valuable Darjeeling tea.
Upton Tea Imports purchased two of the five chests. Of the remaining three, one will be marketed in Japan and two will go to an associate of the garden. We are truly pleased to be the sole American vendor of this celebrated tea.
"Upton Tea Imports was founded in 1989 with the objective of providing the North American tea drinker with
the finest teas available. We purchase teas from reputable brokers and estates worldwide, dealing only with
sources who are capable of providing top quality teas. We sell directly to the consumer, thus ensuring the
freshest product and fairest pricing."