Mountains of Tea – Nepal and West Bengal

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The Himalayas are majestic, imposing, and TEArrific! Some of the best teas ever come from both West Bengal, India, and the nation of Nepal (which is mostly in the peaks of the Himalayas). While teas from West Bengal (known mainly as Darjeeling teas) are enjoying a reputation among tea connoisseurs, those from Nepal are lagging a bit in the Public Relations department. Fortunately, I have gotten acquainted with both through various samples sent to me by some wonderful tea vendors and garden owners. The results were quite a revelation and makes me comfortable in encouraging you to seek out these teas, too.

In case you missed them, I am reposting my articles here. There were also reviews posted, too numerous to list, but I hope you take time to look them up on this blog and my previous tea review blog.

My little teapot sure likes to parTEEEEEA! Here are seven samples from Nepal gathered round for our enjoyment.
My little teapot sure likes to parTEEEEEA! Here are seven samples from Nepal gathered round for our enjoyment.

Tea Gardens in Nepal

The buzz these days seems to be about tea from Nepal. You know, that little country spread across the Himalayas just north of the Bihar state in India which is becoming more of a contender in tea production, too. I thought, therefore, the time had come to take a closer look.

Key Gardens and Producers

The Ilam district boasts two main tea gardens: the Ilam Tea Garden near the Ilam Bazaar, and the Kanyam Tea Garden, halfway between Ilam Bazaar and the plains of the Terai. There are smaller gardens such as Tinjure. Other major tea producing districts are Dhankuta, Sankuwashabha, Terathum, and Bhojpur districts.

The Himalayan Tea Producers Cooperative Ltd. (HIMCOOP)

Like growers elsewhere, the tea farmers and producers in Nepal recognize there is strength in numbers. The Himalayan Tea Producers Cooperative Ltd. (HIMCOOP) was established in 2003 and provides these tea producers who focus on more high-quality teas a common platform for selling to an international market. They currently represent 20 different factories and estates that produce a variety of teas (white, green, black, and oolong).

More Gardens

Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden, established around 2000-2001, is located in the hills around Hile in Dhankuta district in the eastern Himalayan region of Nepal. It is at an elevation of about 1600-2000 meters. Like many of the gardens in Nepal, this one is relatively small (about 75 hectares, with 50 hectares planted in tea). The plants are young compared to those in Darjeeling and China and are cultivars from not only Nepal but Darjeeling, Taiwan, and Japan.

Mist Valley Tea, founded by the late Asal Bahadur Limbu, is in Jitpur in eastern Nepal. The small rural village is frequently enveloped by mist and fog, giving it the nickname used for the company. The garden is known as one of the best manicured around and has a factory for processing and packaging the teas (currently about 100,000 kgs per year of premium tea). Other tea gardeners also bring their leaves to the factory for processing.

Some Quick Facts About Nepali Teas

Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Two general categories: orthodox and CTC
  • Four flushes: 1st (4th week of March thru end of April); 2nd (2nd week of May thru end of July); Monsoon (last week of July thru September); and Autumn (October thru November).
  • While flavors of the the flushes for orthodox teas varies, the CTC teas are fairly consistent in their flavors.
  • Flavors between Darjeeling and Nepalese teas are almost indistinguishable, as hubby and I discovered recently.

Give them a try some time and see for yourself.

Telling the Difference Between Himalayan Grown Teas

Tea growing in the Himalaya area has been underway for more than a century. And now the battle is on to see if people can tell the difference in the flavor of the teas grown in one part of that region versus another. I would think they could. After all, the island nation of Taiwan, which has a much smaller land area, boasts many teas from a large number of tea plant cultivars and having their own unique flavor profiles! But only side-by-side tastings will tell the truth here.

The Himalayan mountains were formed by the collision of the Indian tectonic plate with the Eurasian plate and now abut or cross six countries: Bhutan, China, Nepal, India and Pakistan. The name “Himalaya” means house or abode of snow. Very fitting since the range has some of the highest peaks in the world, including Mt. Everest, and sports a top hat of snow on most of them through much of the year. Nepal is almost entirely in the Himalayas and is becoming quite a tea-growing area, especially in its easternmost part. As discussed in my previous article above, a number of gardens are gaining attention in the tea world. The growing conditions and terrain (steep hillsides and high elevations) are similar to those in the Darjeeling region of West Bengal in northern India. That region is in the foothills of the Himalayas and have had great conditions for tea growing for over 167 years.

The state of Sikkim lies just north of West Bengal and is a new addition to India. Their tea comes from the Temi Tea Garden in Ravangla. It was established by the Sikkim government in 1969 and is laid over a gradually sloping hill that was once a Sherpa village and about 10 acres of tree nurseries, with Scottish missionaries having been in the area in the early 1900s (some of their buildings are still there today). The tea is all top quality and considered to be one of the best in India and the world. Some is marketed under the trade name “Temi Tea.”

Nearby is Dooars, where teas are also grown. It’s to the east of the Darjeeling region and also in the Himalayas. Tea is part of their economic threesome (tea, timber, and tourism). Their tea gardens were originally planted by the British who were ever anxious to keep an ample supply flowing in. Laborers came in from neighboring areas, including Nepal. Demand for teas grown in Dooars is increasing around the world, and they are available as orthodox style and CTC style. They have a character like Assam tea and some of the unique aroma and sweetness of Darjeeling tea.

As far as I can tell, these are it for tea growing, but if I’ve missed any, please let me know. I have certainly tried quite a few Darjeeling teas by now. And recently I received a number of Nepalese teas to try. No Sikkim or Dooars yet. As for tasting a difference, nothing too conclusive, since it would be based on a small sample. You’ll just have to do a bit of a taste test for yourself and see. The European Union is certainly claiming there is no difference and using that claim to justify a move to affect pricing. And so it goes in the world of tea, a beverage said to calm and invigorate all at once. I think those EU folks need to drink more tea and get calm… but wait, they already seem over-invigorated. Well, it’s a battle that only time will settle. Meanwhile, enjoy a nice cuppa whichever suits you!

© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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