Let’s talk Nepal tea. The people of the Himalayan mountains have a long tradition of producing hand-rolled, homemade teas. In modern times, several Nepalese and Indian companies have tried to cash in by utilizing the cheap labor available in Nepal and producing “Darjeeling style” black teas. Until recently, most of these teas have not lived up to the standards of fine Darjeeling tea. Now, however, several Nepalese tea estates have started producing some truly fine, high grade black tea.
Two of these estates, Jun Chiyabari and Kuwapani Tea Estate, have accomplished this by bringing in some great tea makers. Both tea factories are run by tea makers with extensive knowledge and experience. Peter, the tea maker at Kuwapani, and Morris, the tea maker at Jun Chiyabari, are both from Darjeeling and have worked for several years at tea estates there.
Now they live and work at competing tea factories across the street from one another in Hile, Nepal making some of the best tea in the country. Oh, and also they happen to be father and son!
We visited both of these factories in the spring of 2010. At that time, we selected a truly fine first flush tea from Jun Chiyabari. First Flush refers to the first picking of fresh buds and tender leaves in the spring and is highly prized by true tea lovers. Morris, Jun’s tea maker, processes the tea in small batches and hailed ours as one of his best of the year.
The Jun Chiyabari factory is immaculately clean and well run offering well paid jobs to many in the surrounding community.
They utilize some of the best tea making equipment and hire some of the best tea makers in Nepal. They also produce a wide range of teas including green, oolong, and black tea. As of 2010, Jun Chiyabari did not have any tea gardens of their own in Hile. Instead, they choose to support the local community by buying fresh leaves from local farmers. They also encourage good agricultural practices by paying double the normal price for good quality leaves grown using organic methods.
The dry Jun Chiyabari First Flush is very green with some slight oxidation visible and a high abundance of white, hairy tips. The dry leaves also give off a wonderfully fresh, green, and flowery aroma.
When brewed, the Jun Chiyabari gives a bright and clear liquor of golden orange. The flavor is flowery and vibrant with a distinctive dry, muscatel finish. It also has an undertone of fresh, slightly sour fruit like green apple or pineapple. This tea is light in body, but it has full mouth tannins that leave an aftertaste that make you crave another cup. This tea is fresh and invigorating. It is the perfect tea to drink on a sunny morning after a hard summer’s rain.
We also visited the Kuwapani Tea Estate in Nepal last spring. Located across the street from Jun Chiyabari on an old Angora bunny farm (click here), Kuwapani is a more like a traditional Darjeeling estate in that it grows much of its own tea and produces only black tea. Known more for their later harvests, we waited until this summer before selecting one of their teas to offer here at Stone Leaf Teahouse.
The tea we chose was from Lot #16 of their Second Flush harvest. Second Flush refers to the second major harvest of the year – basically, the early summer picking of fresh buds and leaves. After extensive tastings of many teas from several different gardens, we chose a great tea from Kuwapani to import directly to Stone Leaf Teahouse from Nepal. The dry leaves are a mix of deep browns and reds with a high number of tips, or buds. Peter, the tea maker at Kuwapani and the father of Jun’s tea mastermind, Moris, was eager to praise his son as the better tea man, but this second flush tea clearly shows the value of experience.
The infusion of this tea is a beautiful deep, dark ruby red. In stark contrast to the Jun Chiyabari First Flush, the Kuwapani is a malty, full bodied tea. It gives off an enchanting caramel and dark chocolate aroma. The flavor is strongly reminiscent of roasted hazelnut with hints of tart black cherries. This tea has a wonderfully warming quality and is a great tea for everyday drinking, but is especially suited to cool autumn mornings when the leaves are falling and the smell of wood smoke permeates the air.
Both of these are fine examples of some of the best Nepalese tea available today. Drinking quality tea from Jun Chiyabari and Kuwapani Tea Estate is also a great way to support tea makers who take pride in producing great teas in a way that supports the community around them. Nepal is a country trying to reinvent itself and compete with its giant neighbors India and China. Hopefully these teas can help carve out a niche for Nepal’s future.