New Delhi: It’s the monsoon season which makes you realise you can’t do without that perfect cup of tea or two!
From the heart of Darjeeling, the Makaibari tea estate has been manufacturing the very best tea in the world since 1859, when the world’s first tea factory was established in the region. With ace quality tea, it caters to the leading hotels and B2C tea players across the country and the world. Makaibari has been producing one Lakh Kilos of teas annually. With blends ranging across Limited Edition Autumn Blush, Silver Tips Imperial Darjeeling Fullmoon tea, Silver Green, Darjeeling Tea Bags, Silver Green Tea Bags and others — it caters to a range of palate for the tea lovers on a national and global level.
Makaibari protects its flora and fauna and 70 per cent of the area is still under forest cover. The beauty of Makaibari estate further unravels for hikers and tea lovers alike due to the dream that the workers at Makaibari hold believing that the mystical magic of the region is transmitted through the teas that they lovingly harvest across seasons in the region.
Makaibari estate since its inception has pioneered Organic, Fair trade and biodynamic practices to tea and tropical agriculture. It was the first garden of its kind to be certified Organic in 1988, Fairtrade & Demeter in 1993. IANSlife caught up with Rudra Chatterjee, Managing Director, Luxmi Tea, to talk about why the Tea Estate stands out for its blends.
Q: What is the kind of significant economic developments that are being witnessed at the Makaibari Tea estate?
A: The Makaibari Tea Estate has witnessed significant economic developments since 2017. Makaibari pluckers and workers dwell in well-made pucca houses, with about 60 per cent of households owning two-wheelers and 10 per cent having four-wheelers. The estate nurtures, supports, and empowers the women in the community. A specially trained group of ladies use locally available herbs in a dedicated centre and expertise in making several skin creams and medicines for skin infection, blood pressure, and malnutrition pills, to name a few.
Q: Does the estate support the education of the workers’ children in the community and how is it opening up an avenue of career opportunities?
A: Education holds utmost importance, and children have access to private schools, boarding and convent schools. Not just in primary education, children in Makaibari have raised the bar higher and are putting sincere efforts to ace higher education. Some are pursuing graduate courses like B. Tech, MBBS as well as master’s degrees.
Our qualified students are now working with renowned hotels of the Taj group across India. Moreover, the community offers sports opportunities to children by providing them a platform outside the state boundaries or intra-garden matches.
Q: The estate follows traditional, yet sustainable practices, share some details.
A: With the top-notch quality of Makaibari produce, tea exports are increasing rapidly with each passing year. The expansion of forest area by replanting allows trees to re-grow naturally, eventually doubling the amount of green cover. The Makaibari Tea Estate was the first to use biodynamic preparations in the region and continues to follow it religiously to date. These practices are as prescribed by Demeter. With over a century of close nurturing, the tea bushes at our estates have evolved into a library of quality clones that industry veterans come and visit.
Clonal plants grown from a single tea leaf, are specially selected for particular characteristics. Clonal selects, without altering the composition of the plant to create consistent desirable results every season. The saplings reared in Luxmi’s nurseries are chosen to suit the weather and soil and most crucially, to enhance the attributes of existing varietals. Luxmi’s gardens abound with quality clones that make the finest tea — TV1, Panitola, and Samdang. At Makaibari, which is unique only to this estate, workers rely on a celestial calendar to decide the plucking period of India’s most expensive tea — Silver Tips Imperial. It is believed that the air’s high oxygen content and cosmic confluence during a full moon night produces a delicate, smoother tea leaf taste. As dusk settles around the estate, Makaibari workers prepare to harvest this special tea. It is picked ceremoniously — the men beat drums and chant prayers as 80-100 trained workers race to pluck two leaves and a bud.
Tallow torches illuminate the bushes to help the pluckers see, they also ward off wild animals in the vicinity. Once the tea is plucked, the harvest is sent to the factory well before dawn, to be processed before the sun rises. It is said that the sunlight alters the tea’s aroma and consistency. In 2017, we procured estates in Rwanda — Gisovu, Rugabano, and Pfunda. These estates can achieve excellent quality leaf through a combination of ideal growing conditions and diligent smallholder farmers and workforce. In Rwanda, we had initiated the biggest greenfield project that had ever been undertaken by any Indian tea company where we provide a livelihood for the local population. All of our Rwandan teas are Rainforest Alliance certified and 100 per cent pesticide-free.
Q: Makaibari being a self-sustaining ecosystem promotes a sustainable livelihood and is part of the vocal for local movement. Comment.
A: Not just the soil, but Makaibari is a self-sustaining ecosystem in itself.
We’ve believed in caring for our community of pluckers and workers. While their skills are honed for plucking the most succulent leaves, their health and aspirations are met, such as good schooling for their children, basic housing, and healthcare for their families. For a hundred years Luxmi has covered 100 per cent of all these essentials for each worker that tends to the plants.
Luxmi cares about the health of its customers and workers. Many of our estates are home to dense forests, sometimes twice the area of the region growing tea. Several of our estates have completely shunned the use of chemicals and are adopting organic farming and permaculture principles. Every ounce of tea produced is subject to rigorous standard tests and is MRL certified.
Q: How are fair trade and ethics held as a high priority in the overall development?
A: Since the inception of the Makaibari Joint Body, Fairtrade and ethics hold a high priority in the overall development and encourage the community to work towards a better tomorrow. Fairtrade is part of an international body that ensures tea producers receive a Fairtrade premium, the direct beneficiaries of which are the workers and their families. This premium helps in building schools for children, establish micro-credit services as well as strengthening the local communities, organizations within the tea estate, and bettering agricultural practices. Fairtrade ensures that farmers and workers earn a good living while growing and harvesting tea grown at the estate.
Q: Last but not the least, with the pandemic, the focus is on immunity-boosting teas… your thoughts?
A: Of course, maintaining health and boosting immunity have become paramount in the current scenario. Our tea assortment can be the perfect choice for those who wish to make a conscious shift towards a healthy lifestyle. The range mainly comprises six of the world’s most iconic teas which have been harvested amid ancient forests in the Himalayas: Silver Tips Imperial, Silver Green, Springtime Bloom, Summer Solstice Muscatel, Bai Mu Dan, and Darjeeling. Each tea is a specialty whole leaf tea plucked from select areas of our biodynamic and organic Makaibari Tea Estate.