Castleton Tea Estate, KURSEONG VALLEY, Darjeeling, India
Castleton Tea Estate, perched in Darjeeling’s misty Kurseong South Valley, actually has a castle of sorts, as well as a history colored by storybook details. No one is sure of the castle’s origin, though it’s probably just a building left behind by a long-ago money lender.
Originally planted in 1885 by an enterprising Englishman, the estate has passed through the hands of Calcutta royalty, and still uses names rather than numbers to designate specific areas in the garden. The original name of this garden was Kumseri. The various sections of this gardens are known as Bhalu Khop (bear cave), Jim Basha (the erstwhile manager’s domain), Dhobitar (washerman’s clothes line) and Baseri (resting place).
Whimsey takes a back seat, though, when it comes to producing quality teas.
Castleton is planted mostly with China bushes. The estate covers 471.20 Ha (1164.360 acres), about 318.98 Ha (788.216 acres) of which is under tea cultivation. Up to 665 people, including temporary employees, work in the garden during its busiest season. Castleton tea is Orthodox and hand-picked. Exact production techniques are closely guarded secrets, but outside of picking, much of the production process is mechanized to ensure consistency and even production. Castleton was the first tea garden to be awarded ISO 9000 certification in September, 1994.
Binog Gurung, Manager, Marketing, for Castleton, considers the natural environment’s influence on the tea plants and, ultimately, the final product, to be of critical importance. “Castleton is unique for its topography, soil profile and the tea bushes which have been planted,“ he explains. Because of these, he says, “Quality (of Castleton teas) cannot be replicated by other gardens.“
Castleton Tea Estate produces FTGFOPI China Specials, China teas, Tippy Clonals, and very limited amounts of Moonlight & White Teas. According to Gurung, “Moonlight teas are exquisite teas containing mostly white tips made from selected clones. Color of the liquor would be light golden with a fruity and floral note.”
Gurung is also proud of Castleton’s Muscatel teas. “These are the finest of them all,“ Gurung says, adding, “They’re manufactured only during the second flush period, that is during the month of June.“ Muscatels are produced from pure China leaves. The final product has coppery, deep brown leaves that produce a dark golden tea with what Gurung describes as the “unique muscatel flavor.”
Castleton’s leaf teas typically sell for between INR 700 ($16) to INR 10,000 ($220) per kg. Gurung points out that Castleton teas have set a number of price records since the garden became part of the Goodricke group in 1984.
Most Castleton teas are sold at auction, but an undisclosed percent is exported, mostly to Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
2010 Harvest Report
Last year was relatively dry for Castleton Tea Estate and the surrounding area according to Binod Gurung, Carleton’s Marketing Manager. “With less rains being received production may be hampered initially,“ he explains. Nevertheless, he anticipates a good year, especially for the company’s clonal teas, China specials, and Muscatels.