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Nepalese Tea

The Himalayas in Nepal - the home of nepali tea

Mark Twain once described the Himalayas as "the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once by even a glimpse would not give that glimpse for the shows of the rest of the world combined." Wedged between these mountainous heights and the tropical jungles around the Brahmaputra plains, Nepal is a country that has held irresistible allure for intrepid travelers for centuries. Feeling the travel itch, we donned our trekking boots and packed our cups to venture into Nepal's relatively uncharted tea territory, exploring the ethereal tea gardens of this fascinating region.

There are, however, noticeable exceptions to the rule. Inspired by the success of its mountainous neighbor, the Darjeeling region of India, Nepal has seen a growing number of its tea makers switch to more sustainable, orthodox processing methods, focusing on smaller yields and higher quality. This shift has been facilitated in part by the neighboring region's know-how and financial investments.

Much like Darjeeling, Nepal boasts some of the highest tea gardens in the world, some at over 2000 meters, which benefit from the clear mountain air, the mineral-rich Himalayan soil, plentiful rainfall and the annual melting of the winter snows. It is often said that the world's finest teas grow at high altitudes due to the thin air that slows down the leaves' maturation, resulting in unusually complex and delicate flavors. It is these ephemeral flavors that are fueling the burgeoning orthodox tea scene in Nepal.

During our travels across the mountainous “roof of the world,” we encountered a number of different tea traditions that have risen from the region's unique position nestled between two great tea nations, India and China. One tradition that stands out is found just across the border from Nepal, in neighboring Tibet. Tea here has been given a local gastronomic touch, yak butter, which is added to strong black tea along with a dose of salt, then mixed until thick in a wooden churn. The reviving, high-calorie brew is an important source of nourishment in the high-altitude region and dates back as far as the 10th century. Back then, leaves were transported in the shape of tea bricks from Yunnan all the way to India along the historic tea road, crossing through the Himalaya at the Nathu La pass. Tibetan butter tea is a remnant of that time, when tea leaves were still consumed as a thick soup mixed with ginger, onions and other vegetables.

Modern-day tea traditions in Nepal, by contrast, are comparatively young and closely tied to its recent history as a tea-growing nation. Drunk in the English style with milk or cream and lots of sugar, it is robust and hearty Assam teas that account for the majority of Nepalese tea consumption. Though we are advocates of pure, unadulterated tea, we will admit that, after coming back to base camp from a long trek across windswept mountains, there is nothing quite as comforting and heartwarming as a cup of black tea fortified with milk and sugar. Capturing this feeling of utter content is our very own Himalaya Vanilla blend, a rich amalgamation of hearty Nepalese black tea from the “Mist Valley” and pure, sumptuous vanilla – a union that will indulge any sweet tooth, especially with the addition of milk and sugar.

Nepali tea in an teahouse in nepal

When traveling the Himalayas, we talked to local tea farmers and asked for their thoughts on why teas grown at such dazzling heights possess such uniquely brisk flavors. One of our favorite theories comes from the legend of Shiva, who, from his home on Mount Kachenjunga, blows a cool breeze through the gardens every morning and every night, imbuing the tea plants with their heavenly aroma.

With such divine providence, it's no wonder the eastern Himalayas developed into a popular retreat for British colonial officers wanting to escape the sweltering heat of the administrative capital, Calcutta. In fact, so alluring were the refreshing gusts and breathtaking views that they gave rise to countless myths and legends. One of them, the legend of Shangri-La, literally “Land of the Snow,” describes an earthly paradise tucked away in a mystical Himalayan valley. To pay homage to this elusive utopia, we named our Nepalese white tea, with its plethora of zesty floral and woody notes, Shangri-La as well.

The Himalayas in Nepal, ideal conditions for growing tea