Brews from the steep hills of Nepal’s first organic tea garden give back to the community.
The packages have charming colourful labels, and come in flavours like, ‘Kathmandu Cosmos,’ ‘Silver Yeti,’ and ‘Shangri-La Oolong.’ As a writer, I can’t help but feel fond toward this tea company that plays with its names. Even better, the Nepal Tea LLC is a social business venture, bringing you tea straight from the Kanchanjangha Tea Estate and Research Center, the country’s first organic tea garden, founded in 1984.
Kanchanjangha Tea Estate and Research Center was created to improve the living standards of workers in the surrounding remote villages. The aim was to sell their tea in international niche markets. Kanchanjangha is actually the third highest mountain in the world, sitting just 125 km east of Mount Everest. The Kanchanjangha gardens themselves grow tea at 1,300-1,800 m.
So this crazy high mountain—Kanchanjangha—straddles Nepal and India. It is not only close to Mt. Everest, but also a mere 73 km north from Darjeeling, a famous tea region I bet you have heard of. Darjeeling tea, anyone? The Darjeeling Limited?
In Nepal, the phrase ‘chiya khayau’ is just as important as ‘namaste.’ It means, ‘Did you drink tea?’ and is a social greeting. Sharing a bit of conversation over a cup of chiya, or tea, is an important part of daily life.
I was very excited to try this tea, and also heartened to see their forward-thinking business model that includes a workforce of 60% women, and their commitment to social enterprise and valuing their local farmers through economic empowerment programs and educational support for their children. The USDA certified organic is a nice touch, too.
This was a dark white tea. It was an astringent, full-bodied white, with mild floral notes and an almost malty vanilla base.
These past few months I honestly haven’t been drinking much white tea that’s not white silver needle (bai hao yin zhen) or white peony (bay mudan), two famous Chinese styles of white teas, so this white nepalese tea was a nice change. ‘Prakash’ comes from the sanskrit ‘prakāśa,’ meaning ‘light’.
Preparation: 80˚C, 3 minutes.
Ahh, here we go. This is the style of white silver needle-type tea I mentioned in the above paragraph! Made using only buds covered in fine silver down.
Delicate and refreshing with a sweet, smooth finish. This tea has light, grassy overtones, like fresh-cut grass in the warm sun, with little to no astringency. There was a time when white silver needle tea was consumed only by the Chinese imperial family (fun fact). Luckily, today it is a bit more common than the rare yeti.
Preparation: 80˚C, 3 minutes.
I had to try this one because the name sounded like something like a book that Tom Wolfe and Jon Krakauer would write together in Kathmandu in the early ‘90s. Pico Iyer would probably be there too.
This blend is a mix of golden tea tips with Ayurvedic spices. Ayurveda is a holistic healing system developed more than 3,000 years ago in India. Today in North America it’s considered complementary medicine. Even if you’re not into all the health stuff, it still makes a sweet and spicy, tasty brew. I think this particular blend is best without milk, but if you’re a milk-tea person, you could easily add milk to this steep. Honey or lemon too.
Preparation: 90˚C, 5 minutes.
In closing, one neat service I’d like to highlight on their website is their monthly tea subscription boxes. They have these adorable little tea personas (I’m probably the Tea-Drunk Ninja) and it’s just fun to see tea companies experimenting with models like this. Check out their cute updates on Facebook, and this video they made:
I might have fallen a bit in love with their story. Maybe someday I’ll get to visit the Kanchanjangha Tea Estate and Research Center and tell more stories about the work they’re doing. Until then, happy steeping!