(Author’s Note, this article was originally written in the late Summer of 2017 for Italian Tea Magazine Fogli De Tea by Stefano Aliquo, this is the English version with full photos. Again, I want to gracious thank Rajiv Lochan and Shiva Saria, once again for their expertise and knowledge.)
There has been an emergence on specific cultivated varietal tea (cultivars) in the trade. You may see them marketed as “varietal clones,” “clonal,” “cultivated variety,” or “cultivars,” all of those terms mean the same thing. In each tea growing region in the world, you will always find a group of dominant cultivars that are planted in large numbers there. The reasoning’s for doing such can vary. A cultivar is typically chosen and propagated after careful evaluation for one or more of the following criteria; great yielder fresh leaf, great flavor, great shoot to leaf ratio (finish tea to fiber), great pest resistance, great disease resistance, high drought tolerance, or uniform yields across the harvesting year.
AV2 is a prominent cultivar grown and marketed as “ clonal tea” from Darjeeling . While AV2 is not exclusively grown just in Darjeeling, it is the most popular cultivars grown there. The name AV2 stands for Ambari Vegetative 2, it was part of a garden series release program for specific regions conducted by Tocklai Experimental Station, Jorhat, Assam, India, in 1967. Unlike previous germplasma genetic breeding and improvement programs by Tocklai, AV2 and others were collected from existing gardens and then evaluated over different regions of north east India. This is a typical methodology for plant breeding to yield the best production based on various climates and conditions. Mr Balai Saha the director and owner of the Ambari tea estate during the 1960’s was a keen planter and he made the original selection and evaluation under the name Ambari Balai 2 (AB 2). The clone was transferred to the clonal proving station at the Tea Research Association’s Ging tea estate of Darjeeling and with Tocklai during the evaluation phase. It was given a “C” category meaning high flavor and average yield and the name TRA AV2, some people feel it was named wrong as AV2 and should be ABV 2. The Ambari Tea Company Limited has a deep history as it was one of four Indian owned gardens over 1,000 acres (404.687 Ha) in Jalpaiguri (Dooars) of the West Bengal state during a time of British owned dominance of the region in the late 1930’s. Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri are both located within the West Bengal state. AV2 cultivar originated from the Ambari tea estate in Jalpaiguri (lower elevation). The Longview tea estate in Darjeeling (higher elevation) was one of the first estates to plant it for production after the release from evaulation. One of Longview Ltd director’s, Mr. Daga, sold Longview to Shyam Agarwal, who subsequently also purchased Ambari tea estate in the 1990’s. Currently Diana Tea company owns the Ambari tea estate.
Evaluation of 29 cultivars for Darjeeling
The quality of flavor of Darjeeling teas has always fetched a premium price due to a high demand and the marketing of it as the, “champagne of teas.” For years people have tried to quantify why Darjeeling teas have such rich flavor with a Chinese bush (Camellia sinensis var sinensis) lineage compared to an Assam bush (Camellia sinensis var assamica). A study was conducted in 1980’s had a resulting theory that thrip and greenfly infestations stunted leaf growth resulting in the plant creating higher biochemical compounds in defense. A more recent study conducted in 2012 indicates higher exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation due to higher elevation in comparison to lower elevations. While in both instances, the causes were stresses and the effect was increased biochemical production within the plant, yet the UV radiation is more consist in application of the stress and thrip populations can vary throughout the course of a growing season depending on natural predators and other field management controls.
Results of the UV Study of 3 cultivars planted between Darjeeling (D) and Assam (A)
Map of Major Northeast India growing regions
AV2 was released by Tocklai as a cultivar to be grown in Darjeeling for orthodox production. It was noted in a 2009 study of genetic analysis using AFLP markers, that AV2 has multi-quality characteristics to drought tolerance, flavor, and yield making it a model to test future cultivars against. During the genetic analysis, it affirmed that AV2 was a Camellia sinensis var sinensis in origin. Further breeding with AV2 by Tocklai with other cultivars include the 1996 releases of TS 557 (AV2 x Teen Ali/(Tin Ali) 17) and TS 569 (AV2 x Tukdah 78). ShiV K Sharia of Soongachi Tea Group has also noted that AV2 x Phoobsering 312 crosses have been made and are currently being evaluated by the Tea Research Association (TRA) in conjunction with Tocklai. Phoobsering 312 (P312) is another highly regarded cultivar grown in Darjeeling. Future cultivars released with AV2 parentage will potently include TS 707 (R14 x AV2), TS 720 (R2 x AV2), and TS 792 (P1404 x AV2) as noted by germination research published. The R-cultivars come from the Rohini tea estate located in Darjeeling.
Shiv K and Hrishikesh Saria are family member’s and owners of the Soongachi Tea Group. Their family enterprise has four estates in the West Bengal state of India. Two of their estates are in Darjeeling, the Gopaldhara tea estate, 170 hectares, owned since 1955 and Rohini tea estate, 150 hectares, owned since 2000. Their two other estates are in plains of Dooars Jalpaiguri, New Glencoe, 350 hectares, acquired in 1987 and Soongachi, 640 hectares acquired in 1970. Hrishikesh stated that Gopaldhara estate has been in existence since 1881. Both of the Darjeeling estates are orthodox production and have a combined field planting of AV2 of 49 hectares, 9 hectares Gopaldhara and 40 hectares Rohini. Rohini has 100 percent coverage of an irrigation system. Their company produces several products with the AV2 cultivar, white tea out of their 1st and 2nd flushes, lightly oxidized blacks with the 1st flush, and oolongs with 2nd and autumn flushes. Each of the flushes from each estate is branded specifically, and the brands are for the first flush Exotic White from Rohini and Wonder Tea from the Gopaldhara, second flush brands include Enigma Gold and Euphoria from Rohini and Wonder Gold from Gopaldhara, and autumn flush Red Thunder from Gopaldhara. Shiv and Hrishikeash agree that AV2 has a distinct sweet honey flavor to it.
Exotic White from Rohini tea estate
Enigma Muscatel Gold
Rohini tea estate field of AV2 cultivar
In making the Exotic White tea, there is special care in handpicking it in the field. Harvesting only one small leaf and a bud, it is brought into the factory and laid out in troughs and allowed to rest for 5 hours in a cool humid environment. This a resting period before they apply a gentle breeze and wither it for 12 to 14 hours, depending on conditions. The drying phase consists of using rotary dryers at 300 C for no more than 9 minutes before it is cleaned and packaged.
As far as the field management of the tea, it was mentioned that they rarely have any disease issues. Tea mosquito tends to be a common insect pest, but if the crop is harvested every seven days there is typically little damage. Red spider mites do become an issue for them in the fall. If the soil conditions are poor and there is heavy drought, AV2, will defoliate, which creates a big loss for them. At their New Glencoe estate there is a small patch of AV2, yet at the lower elevation they have increased pest problems, small leaf size, and a lower yield.
Rajiv Lochan of Lochan Limited Tea Company recalls of his time at working with AV2 at the Longview Tea estate in Darjeeling. Root rot and thrips were the two significant disease and insect pest that he had to manage against. His description of black, green, or white tea made from AV2 as being one of the most superior quality teas in the world, rivaling other teas from across Asia.
So the next time you look at a box or packaged from Darjeeling with “clonal tea,” “clonal variety,” “cultivar,” or “cultivated variety,” see if it says made from AV2, because you will know that is truly worth every part of the price you pay for it. AV2 is tea fit for a king from Darjeeling.
Rajiv Lochan (left) and Shiv K Saria (right)
Contact and Sales:
Hrishikesh Saria Gopaldhara Tea Co (pvt) Ltd Arjun Enclave,
C & E Block, 1st Floor,
Siliguri Tea Auction Road, Mallagudi, Siliguri, West Bengal – 734003
Vivek Lochan Lochan Tea Limited 2nd Mile, Sevoke Road Siliguri 734 001 WB, India
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 Shiv, H. and Giordano-Silliman J, Personal communication, email, August 1st, 2017
 Lochan, R. and Giordano-Silliman J, Personal communication, email August 1st, 2017