By Courtney Van Evera
When in Nepal, there are two things you need to know how to say:
Namaste: “The spirit in me greets the spirit in you.”
Chiya khayau: “Did you drink tea?”
If you say yes, you will end up drinking a great deal of the country’s universal beverage: Kalo Chia (Nepali chai). The tea consists of sugar, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, yak milk, and most likely a CTC black tea from the Terai, or lowlands, region of Nepal. CTC is a type of black tea that is cut, torn, and curled. When it is sold after production, instead of resembling the original tea leaves, it looks more like gunpowder. CTC tea can be steeped for a longer period of time without becoming astringent, and for this reason is used in chai blends.
When I arrived in Nepal in 2012 on a cross-cultural mentoring trip, I already knew I would miss daily occurrences: the colorful silk Punjabi’s worn by Nepali women, the dirt path to the adopted children’s home, the stray dogs, goats, and cows that frequented the streets, and chai tea three times a day. The Nepali teens I was working with were happy to share this custom for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, as we sifted through ideas on marriage, school, and faith.
Today, Nepal is a new and unique source of fine, loose leaf teas because the Himalayan tea growing region is emerging from the shadows of its neighbor Darjeeling. For most of its history, the finest teas grown in Nepal have been sold across the border in India under the guise of the more famous Darjeeling tea. Now, with a little marketing help, Nepal is establishing itself in the more expensive orthodox tea market because the excellent terroir, age of plants and a dormancy cycle that produces some uncommonly delicious flavors.
The Nepali Tea Traders company was formed in 2012 as a social enterprise with a vision centered around recognition of high-quality Nepali tea, organic practices, and social betterment and education of the Nepali people. The tea-growing region of Nepal lies between 4,000 and 8,000 ft., where the tea bushes develop slowly, allowing for complex flavors to develop. The relatively young age of Nepali tea bushes also contributes to unique and subtle flavors after being handpicked. Because Nepali teas are harvested only four times a year, as compared to 6 times in most Indian regions, tea plants are further able to develop in composition and flavor. Some preliminary studies speculate that Nepali teas have the highest levels of antioxidants and theanine because of the plants ability to increase these compounds while recuperating in the dormant cycles, followed by a growing season in well drained, nutrient rich soils.
Nepali tea plantations are slowly receiving organic certification, aided by companies like Nepali Tea Traders who are committed to preserving quality in Nepali tea. There are very few high elevation tea plantations that use pesticides or chemicals, but it can be pricey to realize this certification. Factories do not typically have enough money for certification themselves, nor the guarantee of electricity or internet. Further challenges to daily business life are due to the 2015 earthquake and a political situation that has not resolved itself since the royal family was killed in 2001. Rising above these hindrances, Nepali tea businesses have an extraordinary commitment to the art and production of tea and we are happy to support them in establishing their name in the market. Simply put, Nepali tea is delicious, here are some of our favorites.
Pokhara Nepali Green Tea: Grown in the high mountains of Nepal, an area most known for marketing teas as “Darjeeling”, the tea growers here are now finding their own niche. Reputedly, an area to have never seen man-made pesticides, this tea is grown in a remote area around 12,000 feet in elevation. Pokhara green tea is produced similarly to many Chinese greens, while the unique soil and growing conditions set it apart. The initial flavors are roasted and toasty, which then give way to a sweeter, mineral, rich linger.
Nepal Himalayan Gold: Grown at high elevation in the Himalayan Mountains, this tea is composed of beautifully spiraled young growth. The flavor transcends the norms of tea grown in this type of terroir. It has an initial note of deep malt that transitions to squash and chocolate, finishing with a classic sweet linger often associated with Darjeeling. This makes for a wonderfully nuanced cup of tea.
Nepal Honeysuckle Green Tea: Harvested in what the Chinese refer to as “Ming Chein” or before the rains, this is the earliest cultivation for tea and the most sought after by connoisseurs across the globe. The tender plucking is extremely aromatic and yields a mild vegetal flavor that has a mineral rich taste which gives way to a sweet linger. The availability of this tea extremely limited availability, we recommend enjoying it while you can.