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Jun Chiyabari… A Tea Story
A perfectly formed leaf and bud set from Himalayan Gold, one of many delicious cups of Nepali tea we enjoyed in our summer visit to Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden. Along with tasting the season's harvest, we took a deep dive into exploring the culture of Nepal, led by our local friends in tea. Such origin research is critical to our philosophy at Rishi Tea; to source tea through responsible and transparent practices and to honor the local culture of tea by telling their story.
Nepal has 5 Development Regions; the East region is where Jun Chiyabari is located, in the central district of Dhankuta. This region directly borders Darjeeling to the east – only 65 kilometers from Jun Chiyabari - and the Himalayan Mountains to the north. Mount Everest also falls in this regional zone.
Enroute to Jun Chiyabari
Here, we're winding through enormous and lush green hills as we approach the town of Hile, in Dhankuta District. Jun Chiyabari makes its home in Hile, at 6,069ft (1850m) in elevation.
Hile town, Dhankuta District
This is Hile bazaar, the town center. The main road is flanked by colorful, open-air shops and tangled lines of cyclists, cars and fearless pedestrians.
Peace, quiet and tea
A beautiful scene of rolling rows of tea tucked into peaceful forestland, Jun Chiyabari is comprised of many smallholder tea gardens which grow tea and send their leaf to this central location. Here, the fresh leaf is crafted into the artisanal, high quality tea that's made Jun Chiyabari increasingly well-known.
Rolling slopes of green leaf
The range of geography of the gardens is truly striking. Spread out across the hills and valleys, the microclimates that form in these pockets influence the tea character significantly.
In some parts, billowing clouds and mist roll in and blanket the tender tea for hours each day…
Hillside valley view
While in other sections, steep elevation and sunnier skies dominate.
Responsible, sustainable cultivation
As stewards of healthy land management, the managers of Jun Chiyabari, including our host Mr. Morris Orchard (pictured), have taken great care to encourage polyculture here, including fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, companion grasses and beneficial shade trees. This enhances the biodiversity in the soil and helps prevent pest and growth issues amongst the tea plants. Jun Chiyabari is Certified Organic, too.
The colorful signs of local flora and fauna are everywhere. The butterflies and insects are so at peace here, they don't hesitate or flutter at all when you get up close for a picture!
A gardener's friend: Ladybugs everywhere
Ladybugs are a welcome sight in any organic tea garden, as they take care of aphids and other harmful insects. How many of them can you count in this picture?
Green clover for better soil health
At the foot of each tea plant, clover is planted to fix nitrogen in the soil. This is just one of many methods Jun Chiyabari has employed as part of their Certified Organic cultivation. The idea to use clover to fix nitrogen, which tea plants use a lot of, was Mr. Orchard's idea, based on his own agricultural research.
Can you spot the baby tea plants?
The very natural style of planting here, using clover and local grasses, sometimes makes it hard to spot the young tea plants!
Another visitor was here...
When you grow organically, ladybugs are not the only beneficial visitors to the tea garden. Notice the discoloration on these young tea leaves?
Celebrated tea leaf hoppers
Tea leaf hoppers were here! Just a week or two earlier, leaf hoppers (a tiny, green winged insect, related to the cicada) came and nibbled on the tender buds.
The difference an insect makes
In this case, insect damage is actually a very good thing. If you look closely, the marks where the insects sucked leaf juice are slightly turning color. This begins the process of withering and oxidizing the leaf while it's still on the bush. The flavor and aroma of the teas plucked from these bushes will be deeper, with a honey-like sweetness and fruity, floral complexity. Himalayan Gold is one Nepal tea that is only made from tea harvested from these particular bushes, creating a cup lush with tropical notes, hints of rose and semi-sweet chocolate. Leaf hoppers are also well known and celebrated by tea masters in Taiwan and Darjeeling, considered a crucial aspect to the character of the two affectionately named "Champagnes of Tea": authentic Eastern Beauty Taiwan oolong tea and Darjeeling 2nd Flush Muscatel black tea.
A rare sight: tea grown from seed
Tea at Jun Chiyabari is grown from seed, not from cuttings of an existing tea bush. Here, a garden worker tends newly planted seeds in the nursery.
A stronger genetic diversity
Planting everything from seed is highly unusual in tea, as many gardens are established from cuttings from only a few plants, cloning the same plant many times over. The decision to use a variety of tea cultivars, and not clonal cuttings, was quite purposeful. The goal is to strengthen the genetic diversity of the garden.
Cared for by hand
Every row and tea bush is carefully tended by hand. Jun Chiyabari employs around 225 people.
Women empowered through tea
An impressive 90% of the employees are women, fulfilling roles in the field, factory and production, management…
A cupping room with a view
…and also the cupping room. We must admit, we are not so fortunate as to enjoy such a particularly gorgeous view from our own cupping room at Rishi Tea in Milwaukee!
Jun Chiyabari's Cupping Assistant
This is Santi Tamang, the cupping assistant at Jun Chiyabari garden. She has been here for over 9 years, and moves with an ease and grace as only someone who is truly "with tea" can do.
Each tea, hand-crafted and hand-sorted
Nearly every single lot of tea that is produced here is meticulously hand sorted, removing imperfect leaves.
Quality at your fingertips
This isn't for aesthetic purposes; leaves that are a different size, shape or level of oxidation will contribute a different flavor to the cup, and potentially throw off the balance. Quality is a grounding point for Jun Chiyabari teas; for these producers, hand-sorting is an unquestionable step.
Oxidizing tea at rest
This attention to detail is present in all aspects of production. Here, leaves that have been rolled are resting on a table, oxidizing and turning color. They will do this for several hours.
A light blanket for the Himalayan chill...
In order to prevent drying out, some teas are covered during their resting time. If the leaves dry out, the still-active enzymes in the leaf won't have enough juice to catalyze further oxidation and the flavor will remain underdeveloped.
The skills of a true expert
Mr. Orchard, Jun Chiyabari's factory manager, keeps a very detailed log of each day's production. He produces Jun Chiyabari's teas with biodynamic practices and organic methods developed during his many years and experience working with tea in Darjeeling and other areas of Nepal. He constantly experiments and adjusts his methods to the season and to a particular flavor profile he gets inspiration to create.
Every detail is noted...
For example, the tea is inspected several times during rolling, and if any changes need to be made to the timing, intensity, speed, etc., Mr. Orchard makes a careful note of that. His father has spent much of his own life working in tea, so you could say it's in his blood.
Cupping room quality check
This meticulous effort pays off in the cupping room, where every lot of tea produced that day is cupped and compared to previous lots for consistency.
Project Nepal: Beautiful teas with a mission
We're proud to offer a selection of several unique teas from Jun Chiyabari - a Taste of the Himalayas. Learn more about Nepali culture and our special partnership with a local women's entrepreneur group working in Nepal,
in this slideshow. Don't forget to take home some of this delicious tea and spread the word!
For further reading:
WEAN Nepal (district-level operations for FWEAN)
Project Nepal: Jun Chiyabari Summer 2013
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