For a long time Nepali tea has been eclipsed by Darjeeling tea, but it's now enjoying something of a renaissance. It doesn’t come as any surprise; teas from Nepal have a special character of their own, are very smooth and easy to drink.
What's special about our teas from Nepal is the story of the people behind them. Here we share the story of the makers; the Kanchanjangha Tea Estate (KTE).
What is KTE?
KTE is a tea garden that sits in the hilly foothills of Mount Kanchenjunga, the third largest mountain in the world after Mount Everest and K2, in far eastern Nepal, bordering the tea growing region of Darjeeling.
KTE was established in 1984 by Deepak Banskota, a pioneering figure in Nepal’s tea industry. Growing up in the mountains of eastern Nepal, Banskota would often visit Darjeeling. Seeing how much more prosperous farmers were on the other side of the border inspired him to use tea to advance the economic situation of his own village.
Banskota later convinced other farmers to join forces and pool together their marginal landholdings. Over a hundred farmers joined together, and in 1984 Nepal’s first organic tea garden was formally established. From the outset, chemical pesticides or fertilisers have not been used.
Today KTE not only produces a wide range of sustainably grown, high quality teas that are celebrated by tea connoisseurs around the world, but KTE is also a centre for tea studies, and a research centre is run on site. The knowledge that KTE has built up over the past 40 years has not been kept a secret and is openly shared in the region. The estate actively helps other farms in the area to operate along the same standards and achieve organic certification.
History of Nepali tea
Nepal’s tea history dates back to 1863, just a decade after Darjeeling’s tea industry was first established. The story goes that the first tea bushes in Nepal were grown from seeds which were given as a gift by the Chinese Emperor to the then Prime Minister of Nepal, Jung Bahadur Rana.
Wishing to piggyback somewhat on Darjeeling’s success as a tea producer, it seemed logical for the then administration to earmark eastern Nepal as the foundation of the country’s tea production. This would also mean a more fluid transfer of knowledge given that most workers in Darjeeling originally came from Nepal, and invariably tea seeds and cuttings.
In the early days most tea that grew in Nepal was sent to Darjeeling for processing. It was not until the 1970s that the tea industry in Nepal really started with the creation of local processing factories with support from the Nepali government, European governments, international development NGOs, and private investment.
Naturally, the Nepali tea industry relied heavily on the Indian market. Most Nepali tea leaves were either processed into inexpensive broken grades destined for the local and Indian commodity markets, and the finer whole leaf grades were sold to India and labelled as Darjeeling. Even today, the amount of tea labelled as “Darjeeling” is approximately four times the maximum yield of the region’s estates.
Over the past decade Nepal has started to shake off its label as the “poor cousin” of Darjeeling and carve out an identity all of its own. Entrepreneurial farmers like those at KTE are investing in their factories and upgrading the quality of their leaf.
Why we love Nepali tea
Our teas from Nepal not only benefit from an exceptional terroir, but they also attest to the craftmanship of the tea makers at KTE who carefully harvest the highest quality leaf at intervals throughout the year and skillfully hand sort, often hand roll and process. The range is constantly evolving as the team continue to experiment with the local leaf to produce a range of black, white, green and oolong style teas.
Explore our selection of teas from Nepal here.