This is the story of Jun Chiybari Tea Garden.
It is the story of trying to be different from others in this region.
– Lochan Gyawali
12 March 2017
Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden is a family run tea garden in Nepal. When we established the company in 2000 we did not know anything about tea even though my brother Bachan and I had spent our childhood in Darjeeling in a boarding school. He was in the boarding school in Darjeeling for 12 years and I was there for 8 years.
Our school in Darjeeling was surrounded by gardens like Tukvar, Singtom and Phoobshering. During holidays we would go down to the river and camp in the tea garden for 3-4 days whilst tea was being plucked. From our classrooms we had a grand vista of green tea trees that extended from the school playground all the way down to the Teesta valley. Often the tea pluckers would sing melancholic Nepali love songs while plucking tea and sometimes we could hear this while sitting in our classrooms. So in many way our childhood was surrounded by tea but we did not know it!
In 2000 we decided to get into tea business and that year we visited several places in the hills of east Nepal to study where to find a good home for our tea project. One of the factors was climate change and global warming. Global warming was a big factor in us choosing to go a bit higher up than normal. The tea garden was established in Dhankuta district of east Nepal near the small town of Hile, North 27° 01′ East 087° 19′.
We chose the name Jun Chiyabari – means Moonlit tea garden. “Jun” means moon in Nepal. One of the reasons we chose this name was to honour our father whose name is Chandra which also means moon. We also wanted a name that was easy for our customers in the west as well as the east like Japan and China; and of course in Nepal too. So “Jun” is moon; “Chiya” means tea and “bari” means garden in Nepali.
Later on we came to realize that Jun character 純 in Japanese and Chinese means pure. That character 純 fittingly embodies our philosophy of the purity of the Himalaya in our teas. In the beginning we only knew of Darjeeling as we had studied there and many of our school friends or their parents or relatives were in the tea gardens either as owners or managers. However within a year we realised that we should not be like other tea gardens in Nepal or Darjeeling. We wanted to be different and we should be different. So we tried to do things differently even though we had already made mistakes in the beginning itself.
So what did we do to be different? Initially we had a plan to buy a lot of land and to have a large tea garden like in the tradition of British India both in Darjeeling and Ilam, Nepal. We realised that this would be wrong. So we stopped buying land. We had seen that in Japan and Taiwan the tea gardens were small and were run by farmers or cooperatives. This really opened our eyes but we could not copy Japan and Taiwan either. So we decided to do a hybrid of the two – have our own small garden but also work with the tea farmers. Our garden is only about 30% of the garden size that we had wanted in the beginning.
When we first started manufacturing in 2003 it was with Taiwanese machines and not with Indo-British machines just to be different from Darjeeling. It was a conscious decision to move away from the existing paradigm and it was an immediate hit with the tea buyers! Indian machines were introduced much later.
We also stopped using Darjeeling nomenclature. At first we stopped calling our tea SFTGBOP. Since then we have slowly stopped using the terms “First Flush”, “Second Flush” and describing our teas as “orthodox”. We are not part of that tea history. Since we use a fair bit of Taiwanese techniques and every tea is also processed in Taiwanese machines so we are not sure we can use the word orthodox in the way that orthodox manufacturing implies. We produce high mountain teas and not orthodox tea to emphasis this difference. All our tea comes from small plots between 1650 and 2100 meters above sea level which are within a 10 km radius of our factory.
Jun Chiyabari tried to be different in another way too. We stopped using tea chests very early on. We were the first tea garden in the region to use vacuum sealed bags using Japanese machines from 富士インパルス and Japanese foil bags from 吉村 . This made us different and at the same time it improved our quality.
We were also inspired by the concept of Pre-Qingming tea (清明节 ) of China and Kaiseki food 懐石 of Japan where seasonality is very important. Tea is a classic seasonal produce of the land and being inspired by Japanese and Chinese cultures we started using a more nuanced seasonality terms that best differentiates our tea instead of “First Flush” or “Second flush” etc. Many of our customers love this new way and have encouraged us forward.
- Early spring – basically about the first 2-3 rounds of plucking when the character is really different. This is exclusively in the month of March. This starts around 春分 using the old Japanese 24 sekki system 二十四節気
- Spring – after 2-3 rounds of plucking the character changes hence spring. In the Indo British system both these would be lumped into first flush. Spring harvest starts from April.
- Early summer – is from about mid May till about early July depending on the rain.
- Summer – From Mid July till about September. Using Japanese term this period starts between 小暑 and 大暑 goes on till a few days after 秋分 when the rains stop.
- Autumn – Teas from after the rains but before the onset of really cold weather.
- Winter – winter tea can only be produced when the cold really sets in and the leaf changes its character totally. It is from very late November or early December till the last plucking.
The tea garden was planted out in small plots with small patches of good cultivars which basically means Darjeeling cultivars like P312, B157, AV2. So each tea is a mix of various cultivars. When we started we had no idea about tea hence this mistake of having lots of Darjeeling cultivars. Fortunately some of the plots that we bought already had tea trees from the old Imperial tea from Ilam.
We are now slowly correcting the mistake of the past with the seeds and cuttings of old Imperial bushes as well as cultivars and varietals from Taiwan, China and Japan.
Again to be different we did everything organic from the beginning. Since the first planting in 2001 including the tea nursery we have been organic. That was one of the guiding philosophies of the garden and it probably cost us 4-5 years in terms of tea growth. The actual organic certification by IMO Switzerland was in August 2012.
Maybe it will take 10-20 years to rectify our initial mistakes and to put everything in place that will really make Jun Chiyabari a truly different. We are confident that at the end we will have a tea garden that we first dreamt of and we will also be able leave a fine legacy for our country and future generations.