The unusually hot weather and lack of rainfall in the West Bengal hills have ruined the first-flush Darjeeling tea crop.
"There has been no rainfall since October 2009, creating a drought-like condition. It has damaged the first flush," said Ramesh Kumar Boruah, advisory officer, Tea Research Association in Darjeeling.
Darjeeling tea has three harvesting seasons, or flushes — spring, monsoon and autumn. The first flush and second flush crops fetch premium prices.
The first-flush tea has a gentle colour and aroma referred to by connoisseurs as muscatel flavour. It is recognised as one of the finest specimens of tea. Seventy per cent of the total produce is exported.
"The production of first flush is expected to dip by around 35 per cent," Sandeep Mukherjee, secretary, Darjeeling Tea Association, said, adding that on April 11, Darjeeling recorded a maximum temperature of 28 degree Celsius and humidity stood at 48 per cent.
"This is unusual for this time of the year when the temperature hovers around 24 degrees and humidity stands above 55 per cent," Boruah said.
A K Jha of Sangma Tea Estate complained the tea bushes were wilting and the leaves had defoliated.
"The erratic first flush will definitely have a spillover effect on the second flush."
In this district, 17,500 hectares of land is under tea cultivation. Earlier the total production of Darjeeling was around 14 million kg. In 2009, the cumulative production came down to 7.8 million kg.