THE AMAZING TEA RACE
The border of Nepal is just a 30-minute drive from our previous stop in Siliguri, India. We did not have enough time in the U.S. to get our Nepal visa, but luckily it was very easy to get a visa at the border!
To our great fortune, we arrived in Nepal on New Year's Day. Also the future, apparently, since the country was celebrating the start of 2071. (The world of tomorrow was beautiful! But we did not see any flying cars that would make moving through the rocky roads of the Himalayas any easier, haha).
Waiting for us outside the Nepal border office were Sonam Lama, and three students from the tea institute. I had been Facebook friends with all of them for many months, so it was nice to put faces to the many conversations we had online. Sonam Lima is an experienced Darjeeling tea man, who is now focusing his energies on the Nepali tea industry. We were able to take some pictures with him before he had to leave for a meeting in Kathmandu, the capital. The tea institute students joined us for the trip, and helped translate for us.
Tea friends, unite! Tea students: Tayama Rai, Susma Bastola, & Nabin Koirala
From the border town, we traveled the 3-hour mountain journey to Ilam. There, we met with the Central Tea Cooperative Federation (CTCF), a group of tea cooperatives that is working to build a viable tea industry for small tea growers in Nepal. We learned about the challenges and opportunities that these tea growers face. They have the knowledge to make high-quality tea, but current demand is lacking. It won't be an easy task to execute, but we found that a tool like our Tealet platform will be a great resource to empower these growers if we can successfully build an international market for their teas.
After the meeting with CTCF we were invited to celebrate the New Year. We had a few beers and some delicious snacks, and we were headed back to our hotel when we saw a group of people on the street. They were dancing on the street around a large fire. Our guides explained that it was a very common way for village people to welcome the New Year, so we decided to join them. We stopped to kick up some dust under the full moon, and really integrate with the Nepali culture. Truly a memorable experience.
Crowded streets on New Years Day.
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The next morning, we met at the CTCF office to do a tasting of teas from one of the cooperatives. We were fortunate to be traveling with our new friend, Shawn Barber, from Companion Coffee in Berlin, Germany - his impeccable palate helped us sort through the wide variety of high-quality teas the growers had to offer. Using the trial-by-fire method (a harsh, 6 minute brew at boiling temperature, which brings out the full profile of a tea), we selected 4 teas to include in our 2014 lineup. To our pleasant surprise, 2 of those teas we chose are from a grower that we have already featured - Pathivara Tea Estate, maker of our Nepali Silver oolong, which is part of our April GTT box.
Immediately after the tasting, the group arranged for us to visit the farms and processing facilities that made the 4 teas that we chose. First on the agenda was the maker of the brown tea we selected, a cooperative out of a growing number that is on a mission to empower farmers in the community. (Cooperative details.)
We were then given a tour of the processing facility and tea garden on-site. We were very impressed with what we saw and look forward to supporting them in the future. We will be featuring the Nepali Brown Tea soon - look out for it!
We had to move on as we still had 6 hours to travel to make it to our next visit, at Pathivara Tea Garden. After the hour long laterite road out of the cooperative site, we made it to a small town, where I moved out of the car and hopped on the tea grower's motorbike! While I only managed a two hour ride on the motorbike (the air was chilly and we were hitting laterite roads, which were bumpy), it was an incredible experience to wind through the mountain roads of the Himalayas with nothing between me and the fresh air...
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Next story: Pathivara, Hidden in the Himalayas
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