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  • Writer's picturePritha Chatterjee

Geographical Indication And A Tale Of Teas

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

The Geographical Indication ("GI") is a form of Intellectual Property Right ("IPR") that helps in identifying products that have unique characteristics attributable to a specific geographical region due to the exclusive climatic or soil condition or traditional techniques used for production. Such products become a part of the identity and heritage of that region and GI gives them the necessary edge to stand out in the trading arena.

Thus, we can say that a GI has three main functions namely,

  • Acts as a product identifier,

  • Contributes to development in rural areas,

  • Can contribute towards preserving Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Cultural Expressions.

A question naturally arises as to what is the difference between a GI and Trademark, if both are used to distinguish goods and services. A GI generally refers to the name of the place where a product originated from whereas a Trademark identifies the good or service originating from a company. A Trademark can be licensed to anyone in the world as it is linked to a specific company, unlike GI that is linked to a particular region, and due to such a link, it cannot be licensed to someone outside the place of origin. A GI simply gives a right to the producers who belong to the defined geographical area, provided they adhere to the applicable standards specified for production. Before a GI is granted a clear nexus needs to be established between the product and place of production.

Darjeeling tea to the world is what Champagne is to France. Some say it is an acquired taste, some say you either love it or you grow to love it, there is no in-between.

The world-famous Darjeeling tea is statutorily governed by the Tea Act, 1953 ("Act") and the Tea Board under the Act has obtained registration of the word "DARJEELING" and its logo as a Trade Mark under the Trade Mark Act, 1999; an artistic work under Copyright Act, 1957 and as a GI under the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 which was enacted in 2003. This step was initiated as there was a rise in adulteration and falsification in the global tea trading forum which lead to the selling of Darjeeling tea in excess of its total annual production. Thus, Darjeeling tea was the first product in India, to get a GI in 2004 due to its distinct flavor, unique quality, reputation, and characteristic attributed to its geographical location and prevailing climatic conditions.

The common Darjeeling tea is usually marketed as black tea, but there are two other varieties that have gained popularity over the years namely White tea and Green tea.

Due to the rising demand for the new variants, the need arose to strengthen the IPR of Darjeeling tea and prevent any falsification and misuse. Thus, the Tea Board filed an application in this regard in the month of December 2017, and with effect from October 2019 Darjeeling White tea and Green tea got the GI tag, thereby protecting its originality and preventing any fraudulent sale under its name.

Darjeeling tea is predominantly made from “Chinery” leaf variety of “Camellia Sinensis” family which is smaller in size and is exclusive to the region although the other variant of the same family ("Assamica") whose leaf size is comparatively broader co-exists and also contributes towards Darjeeling tea production.

Unlike Traditional Darjeeling tea as mentioned above, White Tea is produced from different "Clonal" varieties of tea bush prevalent in the region duly propagated through cuttings. Some classic contributory clone which facilitates white tea production is AV-2, P-312, B-157, SY-1240, etc.

Visually, the tea is Silvery White in appearance and when brewed results in a light golden color liquor with a subtle flavor of sweetness and unique aroma. This attractive combination has contributed to the growing demand and is now becoming the preferred choice of tea among tea connoisseurs domestically as well as internationally in spite of a pocket pinch of anything between Rs. 3000- Rs. 10,000 per kg if not higher.

The first step of tea production, any kind, is the plucking of tea leaves and white tea is no exception.

As such, the exclusivity of Darjeeling White Tea arises from the inception of the first step itself where commonly only tender unfurled buds are plucked using a squad of "Elite" women workers. To ensure minimum damage to the high-quality raw material, priority is given to the transportation from the source to the production site.

The harvested buds are high on pubescence and to obtain and retain the style and character the raw material undergoes an especially advocated manufacturing regime that amongst other things involves minimal oxidation process that contributes handsomely to the reflective silver tips (the whitish silvery appearance across this tea as mentioned earlier).

Apart from the physical characteristics, the elevation and prevailing climatic conditions distinctly contribute to its exclusivity.

The other recipient of the GI tag in 2019 along with White tea is the Darjeeling Green Tea. Over the years there has been a steady increase in demand in the domestic and international markets for these types of teas.

Green tea can be processed using various methods most commonly being Roasting, Blanching, Steaming of the raw material post-harvest that results in the leaves retaining most of the natural beneficial chemicals thereby making it rich in anti-oxidants, highly nutritional and attaches with it a lot of health benefits.

Here too the oxidation process is the bare minimum while other parameters associated with tea manufacture like Rolling, Drying, etc are kept constant.

The stark difference in the manufacturing process of green tea vis-à-vis white tea is the omission of 'Withering' (Moisture Loss) of the raw material which otherwise is an integral part of all types of tea manufacture.

The end product vastly has a grassy undertone of the fresh plant associated with it and when brewed results in a virtually colorless liquor which can be consumed with a dash of lime and honey.

Tea can be grown in any tea-growing region but the exclusive characteristic can be achieved by certain demographic features, for which The Darjeeling White Tea and Green Tea has acquired patronage and reputation worldwide. Once the GI tag has been granted it gives the holder the right to prevent someone from producing a product using techniques that are used that set out the standards for the GI in question. The distinctive feature is achieved only if there is a favorable topographic, climatic, and soil conditions when it comes to the manufacturing of White and Green Tea. It is safe to say that granting the GI tag to them is a positive step towards protecting the supply chain integrity to ensure the authenticity of tea sold as Darjeeling Tea, Darjeeling White Tea or Darjeeling Green Tea as it gives the right to exclude third parties from using the tag if their product does not comply with the standards laid down in the code of practice for the GI. This is a giant leap in protecting the product as Nepal tea has globally affected the sale of Darjeeling Tea.

Lao Tzu once said, "Tea is the elixir of life", and in order to preserve this elixir, be it in any form, effective mechanisms need to be in place to prevent it from being misused and its intellectual heritage lost in the sea of ruin.



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