Rohini and Gopaldhara - two progressive tea estates, owned by the Saria Family.
April 16, 2014
Our journey into Darjeeling begins in the morning, from Siliguri. Before hitting the winding mountain roads, which lead to high-altitude tea estates, we first stop at the low-lying tea estate of Rohini, where we are welcomed by owner Shiv Saria. The Saria Family owns both Rohini and its larger, high-altitude counterpart, Gopaldhara. At Rohini, Saria gave us a brief history of the garden, which is one of the more dramatic stories we have heard. The garden was once invaded by Chinese soldiers, then reclaimed by the Indian government. It was then taken for management by Saria and his family and supporters, and they are now doing some very progressive things.
Interestingly, they are using new Camellia sinensis varieties, such as Yabukita, which is a Japanese variety, and making a lovely green tea from these plants. They are also bringing in some new ideas to the area - the estate is 100% dedicated to high-quality Orthodox tea production, which is also very unusual as most estates in India, even hand-crafting estates, reserve a portion of their leaves for typical CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) production, which is of a lower quality. The processing facility is full of the new types of equipment you would expect to see in China and Taiwan - the imported machines help Saria and his team experiment with new techniques.
The result is a catalog of high quality teas, at Rohini. We were fortunate enough to do a cupping of the new teas of 2014, between the first and second flush of the harvest season.
We left Rohini, took a stop in Darjeeling Town (which was a culturally-rich experience!), then took a drive to view the Nepal-India border. High up in these mountains overlooking Nepal is the Saria Family's second tea garden, Gopaldhara - one of the region's highest tea estates. It is a significantly smaller garden (bordered by their large neighbor, Thurbo Estate), but Gopaldhara's rolling hills of tea are mesmerizing - they'd remind you of something you'd see in a fantasy television show, like Teletubbie Land!
Fittingly, we learned that Gopaldhara's tea plants were very happy plants in a healthy environment. Rishi Saria, the manager, talked to us about how the plants are so healthy, and about the issues that surround these tea gardens in Darjeeling. He says he is grateful that tea lovers from around the world want to purchase and drink their tea, but he explained this difficult reality: international payments can cost them anywhere from 8-10% in fees. He expressed awareness of the correlation between tea worker empowerment and tea quality. Given that, Rishi and his team strive to focus on tea quality, so they can get a higher price, then fairly distribute the additional profits to their workers. It is a good concept - but we will have to go back next year and the following years to see what kind of difference is made with tea worker empowerment.
We also have so much fun sharing the Tealet brand (and farmer cards!) with the growers. Here we have Gopaldhara Estate's team seeing their Gopaldhara Queen tins for the first time. They are surprised and happy to see their story and tea spread throughout the world.
We look forward to building a long-term relationship with the Saria Family and their Gopaldhara/Rohini gardens, if we see that they continue empowering their workers.
Our monthly box for April includes Red Thunder, a black tea from Gopaldhara Tea Estate. We are also proud to introduce Nepali Silver, an oolong tea from Nepal, our next story on the Amazing Tea Race.
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