This week, the Margaret’s Hope garden celebrates its 150th anniversary, and I am invited to the event. It’s an opportunity for me to remind you that tea was only introduced to India very late, in the mid-19th century. It was the British who set up the tea plantations in the country, after stealing the seeds of tea plants from China.
Margaret’s Hope makes teas that are sometimes exceptional, such as Margaret’s Hope DJ40 Moonlight, and Margaret’s Hope DJ219 Pure Av2. They are two fine teas from 2014 that I hope will be back next year.
Nowadays, the main problem facing Nepalese tea producers is a labour shortage. A significant portion of the population has left to find work in the Gulf countries or in Malaysia. This means the tea is only plucked once a fortnight on some mountains, which compromises its quality. Luckily, the plantations that produce the best teas are less affected. This problem does not only concern tea. The whole of the country’s manufacturing and farming sectors have been hit too.
I have just returned from Nepal, where I had the opportunity to spend several days with my friend Andrew Gardner, who came to join me in Ilam valley. He had planned a four-hour walk for me, to reach a village of small producers. Andrew has worked on several plantations, but you could say he was the first to make very good teas in Nepal. We owe the renaissance of tea in the country to him. He started by working at Jun Chiyabari, and he is now applying his talents at Guranse. He’s passionate about what he does.
Nepal produces some very fine teas, but so few people know about them! You have to travel for hours, and sometimes walk, to reach the mountains where the tea is grown. On the way I admire the scenery, with the paddy fields carved into terraces. The farmers work using the old methods, with the help of a buffalo. Life passes slowly. You listen to the birds sing. They announce the harvest time.