Continued from yesterday’s post Narendra Kumar Gurung on Developing Local Tea Production in Nepal – Part 1
- In what way has the market for higher quality teas there changed? How are most teas produced in Nepal sold, and to what country?
The medium and large size factory owners buy green leaves and produce in large quantity, without caring so much about the quality, and those finished teas are sold to Kolkata auction market. The products are often subsequently sold as Darjeeling tea, misrepresented as being from a different location.
But with the introduction of Chinese mini processing plants, there is a growing trend of producing the specialty teas (white, gold, silver needle, oolong, and green tea). Producers are more often more connected with the garden owners, with these small operations continually developing increasing skills of tea craftsmanship. Most of these teas are sold to European countries, to Korea, Japan and the US through personal connections. There is not much domestic consumption for these types of specialty teas except for Chinese tourists buying them as gift items.
- Related to discussing tea plants, can you say a little about what types of tea you grow (var. Assamica versus Sinensis, local plant types or hybrids)?
Almost all teas that we grow here in Nepal originated from Chinese and Assamica varieties propagated through seeds. Only a few varieties are from Cambodia. There are a number of lines developed based on Chinese and Assamica varieties from Darjeeling’s different gardens, imported through different channels. The hill areas where my garden exists, at an elevation of 1514 meters, produce only orthodox teas based on Chinese origin teas.
- Can you describe more specifics about tea processing techniques you are familiar with, and where they originate from?
The tea processing technique and sequence that we follow is quite traditional, as in other places: (1) plucking, (2) withering (3) rolling (4) fermentation (oxidation) (5) drying (6) sorting and grading and (7) packing.
Right after my retirement from JICA in March 2016, I had an opportunity to attend training entitled, “2016 Seminar on Pollution free, Tea production Technology for Developing countries,’’ organized by Zhengzhou college of Science & Technology, Zhengzhou Fijian province of China, from April to June 19 in 2016. This short course was an eye-opener for me, encouraging me to develop the processing of tea from my garden and neighborhood farmers. I also realized that Nepal’s experiences on tea at the farmers’ level is just at the embryonic stage while China has more than 5000 years of tea culture and tradition.
- Is there a tradition of local Nepalese tea processing and related techniques, and tea products and types?
Tea culture is rather new in Nepalese societies. Although at the state level the gardens were developed in 1863, that production remained only within the government scope. Only in 1971 under the out-growers schemes of the Nepal Tea Development Corporation did tea plantation production start at the farmers’ level. Taking tea as local beverage also has a similar history, only consumed in the eastern part of Nepal like Ilam. This is perhaps due to those areas adjoining to the Darjeeling area. But now gradually the milk teas (based on CTC versions) are getting popular all throughout the country.
- Where does Nepalese tea production stand now?
The teas that you had mentioned trying (golden black teas, and silver needle) are very new development products, perhaps being developed only in the last ten years. The taste, aroma, and quality of Nepalese teas as a whole being so different from many other teas of the world is due to the high elevation, climate with mist, monsoon rain, and quite congenial weather of Ilam, the Eastern district of Nepal.
If we just gauge the tea history of Nepal at the farmers’ level, both garden management and tea manufacturing, 45 and 25 years respectively, there have been significant leaps made. Surely there are lots of areas of improvement to come in terms of improving quality and efficiency. One of the major challenges the Nepalese tea entrepreneurs face is the marketing of their products, along with further developing processing skills and knowhow.
As we go forward there could be lots of interaction among the tea entrepreneurs, marketers and tea consumers at the global level, while Nepalese producers at different scales of production volume further develop their craftsmanship.
My company, Highlanders Farmers Private Limited, has supported about ten (10) tea laborers throughout the years in plucking, bush management and so on. One manager is fully involved to manufacture the produced tea into different types and quality levels. There are six tea farmers within the radius of one and a half kilometers from my garden who will provide their green leaves for processing in my small plant.
Again this is only part one. Actual finished teas have been produced over the last month or two at his small start-up facility, as a first step on this new venture that was described. A second chapter that includes a review of finished teas will add more about where things stand, and about next steps in this development. Narendra hopes to explore more direct sales overseas, which I will say more about along with reviewing those teas in my personal blog.
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I think the desire to continually improve the quality of orthodox tea is moving in the right direction. I love what’s being done both to educate the local farmers and earn a reputation for artisinal teas.
To me it’s bad enough when relatively few people in places like the US appreciate really high quality and unique teas from places like Nepal, but it’s a real shame that consumption is so limited in that country. Past history comes into play, and economics. This has been most surprising related to India, that few people there have ever tried their better teas, but it’s not so much less true here in Thailand. Here Starbucks coffee is popular, and flavored milk teas also are, so the gap is just about awareness. I’m working on that.