Having several “clonal” teas in stock in our online store and having just added another, we thought it was time for a good look at what they are and how they are gaining in number among the teas carried by JAS eTea, LLC and others tea vendors. Let’s take a deeper look at the what, where and why of clonal tea varieties.
What “Clonal” Means
Clonal refers to the method of controlled replication of the plants to produce the best results. Despite the expense, this propagation method is becoming more common in the tea industry, especially with the original Chinese jats (varietals or cultivars) planted in the mid-to-late 1900s. Clonal tea bushes are not grown from seeds but from hybrid clones. A lot of times, these clones are developed by research laboratories, much the same way many other plants that have a commercial use are developed. They are bred for specific qualities and are thus some of the most sought after teas, usually selling quickly despite generally higher prices.
Healthwise, different tea clonals have different caffeine levels. Younger, more tender leaves have a higher caffeine content versus older leaves, and the stalks have a lower content. How the leaves are plucked and seasonal fluctuation can also make quite a difference (often a variance of 24-30%) in caffeine levels.
Use of Clonals in Various Tea-growing Areas
Mostly, tea plant clonals are bred to thrive in adverse tea growing locations. For example, Duncans Tea Gardens are in an area of West Bengal, India, that has dry weather conditions with high temperatures for about seven months of the year. Land that was once fallow as old plants became worn out and did not yield good leaves is now about 70% replanted with clonals and has a potential to produce over 4000 Kgs of clonal tea per hectare per year, more than double the national average.
In Darjeeling and Assam tea growing regions in India, clonal teas often display a good selection of deep golden tips, which are becoming more in demand as tea aficionados come to regard “golden tippy” teas as more desirable than regular Darjeeling and Assam teas. This raises their price at market – a boon for garden owners and employees.
Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) was once a key coffee-growing island nation until the coffee blight hit. Then they found that tea plants would thrive there. Over time, growers turned to clonals (some are 30-40 years old and doing very well still). The percentage of hectares planted in clonal versus regular tea bushes ranges from 46.6% (corporate production) to 87% (smaller tea producers). They have seen a more reliable and steadily improving tea crop, gaining in popularity and no longer regarded as just for a tea blend base. Market prices have followed this quality and demand rise.
The Arya Estate in West Bengal and the Mangalam Estate in Assam are both well-known for their clonal teas. The former produces a green tea with a floral/fruity aroma and a classic black tea. The latter has black tea with a fragrance said to be like fresh-baked bread and a malty flavor. Both have become must-haves for tea aficionados.
The Nilgiri region of India also has estates, such as Quinshola, that produce clonals. In fact, the Quinshola Estate produces high-quality Orthodox teas in demand not only from the locals but also from Russia to make Russian Orthodox tea (you don’t need a samovar to enjoy it). Market demand helps their prices stay at a level good for both garden management and the people who live on/nearby the gardens and depend on them.
There are also clonal teas from China, Kenya, and other tea growing regions. The Badgach clonal fields in China are selectively picked and hand-processed into an exquisite clonal tea with unbroken shoots and wiry silver tips; they reportedly produce a fully golden cup that has a sweet taste and lots of flavor. The Millima Estate Tea in Kenya has golden tippy, neatly twisted leaves which are claimed to produce a red-orange liquid that is flowery but robust without a tannin taste. Both teas garner the best prices at auction.
More Clonals on the Market
As the push continues to increase quality, hectares planted, and yields per hectare to meet a world-wide rising demand for better teas, clonals are definitely rising in acceptance and popularity. We see far more now than even as recent as six years ago. Of course, this is partly due to a change in tea labeling, where vendors give consumers more information up front, such as these we carry:
- Jungpana AV 2 Clonal Wonder Darjeeling Second Flush Tea – Organic
- Jungpana FTGFOP-1 Clonal Darjeeling 2014 Second Flush Tea – Organic – 50g
- Giddapahar 2015 First Flush Darjeeling Tea – Limited-edition Hand-rolled AV-2 Clonal – 25g
- Rohini Tea Estate 2015 First Flush Darjeeling Tea – Exotic AV-2 Clonal – 25g
- Giddapahar 2015 First Flush Darjeeling Tea – SFTGFOP 1 CL TPY – 25g (the “CL” means “Clonal”)
- Giddapahar Limited-Edition Hand-Rolled Darjeeling 2014 Autumn Flush Tea – 25g (100% AV2 clonal)
- Giddapahar Limited-Edition Hand-Rolled Darjeeling 2014 Second Flush Tea – 50g (100% AV2 clonal)
[Note: All of our teas are carefully stored, assuring they maintain optimum freshness.]
Try some teas from plants created using this selective propagation process and form your own opinions. There is truly some great science going into creating these hearty plants which thrive under different climate and terroir conditions. Bottom line: all tea lovers reap the benefits!