ASSAM HERITAGE TEA
Our Assam tea is produced by Heritage Tea, a small factory located in the city of Dibrugarh in upper Assam. It sources leaf from a network of local farms and processes a range of speciality teas.
Heritage Tea was founded by Rajen and June Baruah in 2010 to support small tea growers and help them develop quality teas. Rajen was inspired to start Heritage Tea after witnessing during his 30 year career in the industry the steady decline in large corporate tea estates as they've battled with rising labour costs, declining yields, and low prices.
Rajen is considered something of a maverick in the local tea growing community. What Rajan and his family are doing goes beyond simply tea making; they're helping to empower a previously marginalised community by enabling them to take centre stage.
Assam is located in the far northeastern corner of India. It's a flat, low-lying region fed by the Brahmaputra river, making for an exceptionally fertile environment with high rainfall, rich clay soils, and tropical temperatures.
In this bountiful environment, Heritage Tea works with a network of small family tea farms spanning across the north of Assam and the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh. Each farm measures no more than 4-5 acres which makes it more viable to cultivate tea using all natural methods.
All Heritage growers have made the switch from outdated, conventional agriculture to chemical-free and pesticide-free methods. They use organic methods like natural composting, shade planting and typically produce in areas teeming with natural biodiversity. Rajan provides technical support and coaches growers on how to upgrade the quality of their leaf and develop their farming practices.
The Assam region sits in the so-called “tea belt” where tea has grown wild for centuries, stretching from Assam in the west to Yunnan in the east. It was the camellia sinensis assamica, the broad leaved variety of the tea plant, found in the jungles of Assam that so confused western botanists in the 19th century when they first came across it.
It took decades before the assamica variety was recognised as a tea plant, despite being grown and used medicinally by native tribes for generations. However, once acknowledged as the tea plant, the British were quick to clear and dedicate vast tracts of Assam to tea growing. Today Assam is one of the largest tea growing regions in the world.
Mass production of predominantly CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea for the teabag market over the last 50-60 years has led to a reliance on agro-chemicals and historically low wages across the region. This has at times led to unrest, and in the early 1990s led to insurgency. Even amongst self-employed small tea growers, there has been a constant struggle as they are paid low value for their picked leaf by bought leaf factories owned and operated by big commercial companies.
For a region that produces such vast quantities of tea, there has been a slow uptake in adapting to new farming and work methods. Pioneers like Heritage Tea are essential in helping to address the imbalance in this region.