KANCHANJANGHA TEA ESTATE
Kanchanjangha Tea Estate was established in 1984 by Deepak Banskota, a key figure in Nepal’s tea movement, along with local farmers and is based on a cooperative model. It was after a visit to the tea gardens to Darjeeling as a teenager that Mr Banskota first became inspired to use tea to advance the economic situation of his own village.
He later convinced other farmers to join together and pool their marginal landholdings. Over a hundred farmers joined forces, and in 1984 the first orthodox tea garden (covering 94 hectares) was formally established. Today the land now produces premium, organic, and orthodox teas.
Kanchanjangha is proud of its reputation as an innovator in Nepali tea. It also operates a research centre on site. It was the first tea estate in Nepal to be certified organic. The garden continues to promote new sustainable practices, including using renewable energy for drying its tea and intercropping native species to promote biodiversity.
From the outset, Kanchanjangha has been focused on social responsibility. A hundred cooperative members who also actively farm the land are owners themselves. As shareholders they participate in the decision-making process and receive dividends. The organisation also pays for farmers’ housing, the children's education and subsidises food costs. In a global industry that relies heavily on cheap migrant labour to harvest fresh leaves, Kanchanjangha provides a notable exception.
Nepal is located in the heart of the Himalayas between the two great tea producers of China to the North and India to the south. The country’s best tea growing regions known for producing premium-quality tea are in the far east of the country, a mountainous region which borders Darjeeling.
It is here in the moist hilly region that the finest bushes of the Kanchanjangha Tea Estate thrive at an altitude of 1300-1800m. The tea garden lies at the foothills of Mount Kanchenjunga, the third largest peak in the world. The combination of cool mountain air, abundant sunshine and veils of mist, help create the fine subtle and slightly fruity flavours that are characteristic of the teas here. The bushes are grown without the use of chemicals, pesticides or fertilisers.
Nepal’s tea history dates back to 1863, just a decade after Darjeeling’s tea industry was 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.
Although it shares a very similar terroir to Darjeeling, Nepal has followed a very different trajectory to its more illustrious tea growing neighbour.
Historically, most Nepali leaves have been processed into inexpensive black CTC processed tea destined for domestic consumption and exported to the Indian commodity market. The finer whole leaf grades have usually been sold to Indian traders and labelled as Darjeeling tea. It is no wonder then that Nepal tea for decades has been considered a poor cousin to Darjeeling.
That is now changing, and over the past decade the Nepalese loose leaf tea industry has experienced something of a renaissance. A new generation of small-scale tea growers in the country who have experience of making tea both sides of the border, have been able to blend their expertise with a high level of innovation. This is helping create an exciting new identity for specialty Nepali tea.