THE AMAZING TEA RACE
Heritage Tea - A source of community empowerment.
On April 7, 2014, we visited Dibrugarh, which is part of Assam, a region in India that is famous for tea production. While Assam tea is most often used to make cheap teabags and blends, there is a growing trend towards higher quality tea and diverse techniques. Our host and partner from Assam is Heritage Tea, a company that is empowering entrepreneurship in the region. Their founder is Rajen Baruah.
At 1PM we arrived at Dibrugarh Airport. As we landed, all we could notice were the beautiful tropical plants, with palms and banana trees, and a continuous flow of rivers. The airport just has one gate; Dibrugarh doesn't serve as a major tourist destination, but it is a prime area to grow tea. We were picked up by Ishan and Rani Baruah from Heritage Tea, and after a 5 minute drive we were at the family's factory, where they process tea.
There, we met the rest of the family, particularly their father Rajen. Rajen Baruah is the founder of Heritage Tea, and is an experienced tea planter and long-time Assam tea man. Rajen was happy to meet us, and to explain both his history and his new passion to do tea right. He gave us a peek into the real story of Assam tea.
He worked many years for *CTC operations for companies like Unilever, which is the typical style for tea production for the region. CTC processing limits small tea growers, so Rajen wants to revolutionize the region by empowering small tea growers to be more involved with their tea.
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With this idea, Heritage Tea started in 2010 when the family settled in Dibrugarh and built the factory right next to their home. He explained the difficulties of starting a factory, including the endless amounts of licenses to collect. Because the Indian Tea Board is very supportive of CTC production, Heritage had to put in a CTC factory to secure a gas line for their facility, and they have to produce CTC to keep the business viable. Despite that, Heritage designed their own small scale processing equipment to produce specialty teas like green tea and orthodox tea, which is revolutionary for the region.
Green tea: Leaves are steamed to prevent browning.
The next day, Rajen took us to the garden of one of the growers he's most proud of. Rajen works with 15 different small tea growers, holding about 4 acres of land each. We had a great time going through the process of steaming green tea. We talked about the experiments they should do to make other types of teas, since specialty tea production is very new to this area and information from neighbors (like China, an 8 hour drive away) is still scarce. Heritage is definitely leading the way for innovation!
All of the growers use organic practices, and Rajen has even empowered his neighbor, a young entrepreneur in the community to start a vermicompost operation. Vermicomposting creates a natural hummus from organic material that has been broken down by earthworms. The operation now supplies great organic compost to Heritage Tea and its small growers, and he's now built a network of 700 vermicompost operations. This is a great step towards making the tea industry more environmentally-friendly, and for producing better tea in general.
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Heritage is empowering entrepreneurship all the way down the line in the region, and we are proud to tell their story to you. You can support Rajen, Heritage Tea, and the region of Assam by choosing specialty Assam tea. Say no to CTC!
Next Story: The Lochan Family of Bihar
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