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Coffee to invade Darjeeling, 'the land of tea'

india Updated: Feb 16, 2014 14:54 IST
Amitava Banerjee

Coffee is all set to invade the land of tea. Over the past two years, a successful pilot project of coffee cultivation near Kalimpong has prompted the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) to promote coffee plantation in the Hills.

The GTA bosses will soon write to the Coffee Board of India and National Horticulture Mission for funds.

It all started about two years ago with Llwellyn Anthony Tripp’s return to Kalimpong. This 70-year old tea planter turned coffee planter decided to try his hand at coffee in his home town.

“In 1969, then a tea planter, I had left Darjeeling Hills for New Guinea. Since then I have been involved with the coffee industry.

As a coffee planter I have worked in China, Indonesia and other countries. Two years ago I returned to my hometown Kalimpong, and decided to try my hand at planting coffee in the Darjeeling Hills” Tripp talking to HT.

Tripp claims none has earlier attempted to cultivate coffee on a commercial scale in Darjeeling, known all over the world for being the cradle of the finest tea.

“Swiss missionaries brought coffee with them which they grew for themselves in the kitchen gardens.

Again during World War II, the Gorkha soldiers returning from Burma brought with them coffee, which they planted in kitchen gardens.

I decided to turn this around on a commercial scale” added Tripp.

Two years ago Tripp had distributed 500 to 1,500 plants each to 60 odd farmers in Kalimpong.

“The result we got from this pilot project was fantastic” claimed Tripp. He sent the Darjeeling grown coffee samples to USA, Australia and Germany in 2013.

After cupping (similar to tea tasting) Australian buyers grading the Darjeeling coffee, awarded 85 points out of 100; USA buyers graded it to 83 points out of 100 and German buyers certified the coffee as “Excellent.”

“We expect to start commercial production from this pilot project in the year 2015-16” added Tripp, who is an Australian citizen and also holds an Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI)

Taking the cue from Tripp, the GTA has now decided to promote coffee in the Darjeeling Hills. “We will promote coffee in places like Gok in Darjeeling” said GTA chief Bimal Gurung.

“We will write to the Coffee Board of India and National Horticulture Mission for funds. Once we get a go ahead we will start the project” stated Dr D T Subba, chief advisor, horticulture, floriculture and cinchona, GTA.

The GTA plans to promote coffee with community participation and not in the form of huge plantations. “The benefits will go directly to the farmers. It will initially be a micro level industry which in due course will turn into a mega industry” feels Subba.

Initially, seedling will be handed over to interested farmers by the GTA In the first phase around 7,000 farmers having land in altitude 3,000 ft to 5,000 ft will be given seedlings.

“The coffee plants begin to bear fruit from the third year onwards. In the sixth year the annual yield from each plant is about five kg.

On an average Rs 1 lakh worth of coffee beans is produced from an acre of land (same revenue generation as orange cultivation)” stated Subba.

The GTA plans to intercrop coffee with medicinal plants and oranges. “Darjeeling coffee will be purely organic. We will not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

The coffee beans will then be semi-processed and exported to USA, Australia and Germany. Mr. Tripp will help us with technical expertise and marketing,” added Subba.

Interestingly, even the world famous Darjeeling tea had started from a kitchen garden in 1841.

Dr. Campbell, a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service was transferred to Darjeeling in 1839 from Kathmandu, Nepal and used seeds stolen from China (Camellia Sinensis) to begin experimental tea planting.

The British government also established tea nurseries during that period. Commercial development began during the 1850s. During 1860-64, the Darjeeling Company was established with four gardens.

At present there are 87 tea gardens in the Darjeeling Hills with 17,500 hectares under tea cultivation. The Darjeeling tea industry has a workforce of 55,000 permanent employees and 16,000 temporary workers.