A NEW NEPALI TEA GARDEN
By Jane Pettigrew
As some of you will know, UKTA sent out a special newsletter on Thursday 21st May to celebrate the first International Tea designated by The United Nations. Amongst the wonderful quotes and photos contributed by our tutors, students, support staff and friends, I included a photo of myself with Andrew Gardner, Nepalese tea grower and maker, drinking some of the tea he had made and brought to London last year to share with me.
Last week, an email from Andrew appeared in my inbox thanking me for mentioning him in the newsletter and sending me his latest news. Andrew is very well known among tea growers and makers and has worked with Susie Walker-Munro and other growers in Scotland, with Lucy George at her tea farm in Wales (the green tea they made together last year was absolutely delicious), and over the years he has worked with a number of estates and factories in India and Nepal, including Guranse and Jun Chiyabari.
For the moment, he’s stuck in India because of Covid-19 but is longing to get back to Nepal where he has a new project. He’s working at a tea estate called Siddha Devi Tea Estate, (named after a Goddess worshipped by the indigenous tribe living there) which lies at an altitude of 6,800 feet in a very remote area on the border between Ilam and Panchtar hill regions in eastern Nepal. It was set up by Nripesh Koirala, a young entrepreneur from Kathmandu who had fallen in love with the place and wanted to help local farmers (who had planted tea about 10 years ago but then abandoned their plants) and provide a factory where their teas could be processed. So he contacted Andrew and now they are planting all the way up to 7,600 feet, the highest Andrew has ever grown tea!
“My team and I are helping the farmers rejuvenate their plantations with the promise that we will buy their green leaf. I’m building a factory which would have been ready had this lockdown not taken place, but on the brighter side, everything happens for the best - the earth is healing and the world has realized the importance of agriculture and the farmers,” wrote Andrew in his email. “Siddha Devi Tea, although proving to be more challenging than I expected, due to the high altitude and being so remote, will definitely produce some of the best teas in the Himalayan region.”
I wrote back to ask him what sort of teas he aims to make there and he told me “I plan, like in my previous gardens, to make speciality teas. White, Oolongs, Gold, Hand Rolled and Green teas. I believe in creating new styles of these teas. I have always loved to try out new recipes. I never follow a fixed pattern of timings for rolling, oxidation and drying. I use my nose for deciding whether the tea has reached its peak during oxidation or not. I love making well oxidized, well fired teas. My favorites are the Hand Rolled teas, they are so complex in character. Each batch of hand rolled tea differs and you get to taste a new experience each time. Look how versatile tea is. It can be moulded into different shapes and sizes. You can make it take on different colours. You can make it taste harsh or sweet or mellow or bitter. Imagine! There is no end to what you can do with tea. It's amazing.”
If the teas Andrew makes at the new factory are anything like as good as the teas he makes at Everest Tea Estate, another previously abandoned garden close to Kathmandu that he worked on for four years to bring back into shape, I shall be among the first to buy some - and when we eventually get back into our classroom, I’ll arrange an Academy Extra event at which we can taste samples of Andrew’s Siddha Devi teas.
Image captions, clockwise from left:
1. Andrew working with the farmers to prune back the bushes.
2. The tea nursery at Siddha Devi.
3. Pruning abandoned tea bushes.
4. The view at Siddha Devi.