Darjeeling is behind me and I am now in Assam. The world’s largest tea producing region. And I now understand fully as there is tea absolutely everywhere. The air feels tropical, the terrain is flat and all around for miles and miles you can see only tea bushes.
There has been much talk in the last few days on the merits or faults of what are called clonal teas. Please do not confuse that with genetically modified, because they are not. Cloning means taking a cutting off a mother bush, planting it, and from that grows a new tea bush. The clonal is an exact replica of the mother bush. Think Dolly the sheep.
Why do tea estates practise cloning? Because a cloned bush yields a higher production. It also produces a harvest of identical leaf characteristics.
The down side of cloning is that the cloned bushes have a shorter life span, and the flavours of the tea produced are not as high in quality as the original.
There are certainly arguments to be made on both sides, but this tea girl has a rather firm position. Tea is a crop, it isn’t homogeneous, and yet we are trying to make it so. In doing that, we are losing all the uniqueness, all the individuality, all the personality of the tea leaf. I don’t want a homogenous product.
The need for tea estates to have high yield on crop, I fully empathize with. I caution however that that should not be done at the expense of the future. Over producing cloned plants that have shorter lives is forgetting that there is another generation to pass these gardens and these traditions on to. We are all only temporary caretakers.
Celebrate the unique flavours, rejoice in the fact that no two cups of tea are the same. Let’s stop trying g to create uniformity. How dull the world would be if we were all the same.