We are so honored to now offer beautiful and delicious teas from the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal. We wanted to learn more about the story behind these teas, so we interviewed Pratik Rijal of Nepal Tea to get an insider perspective!
Inspired Living Blog Feature Interview Q+A:
Q: Please tell us a bit about Nepal Tea:
A: Nepal Tea is a social enterprise that distributes the freshest teas around the world directly from the producers. We're creating a tech-enabled transparent tea trade to connect primary producers to the ultimate consumers!
Q: What makes Nepal Tea a catalyst for social change?
A: Our farm was established in 1984 with the clear mission of getting the community out of poverty and we have seen the firsthand impact that it has had in the community where the tea garden is. Even after 40 years, we still have the same mission and vision to help the farmers and the communities in Nepal.
A few things that we have done are provide free community housing for all the full-time farmers that cannot afford one, scholarships for all the full-time farmers' children. As of May 2020, we have awarded 2400 scholarships for children of underprivileged tea farmers in Panchthar, Nepal through our legacy organizations.
Similarly, we have a cooperative established for the farmers that do small-scale micro-financing. The farmers are able to save and accrue interest in their savings from every paycheck and are also allowed to take loans during emergencies or for any important things. The farmers are the owners of the cooperative itself and the coop buys daily necessities such as rice, salt, and oil on a wholesale basis and distributes them to the farmers, which allows the farmers to get these daily essentials at subsidized prices.
Furthermore, we established a farmer’s emergency fund during the COVID crisis in 2020. Our tea farmers were able to work initially but exports had been halted for more than 2 months. Through this emergency fund, we were able to:
1. Compensate lost wages (used to buy daily food essentials) with food essentials (rice, salt, lentils, and oil)
2. Distribute functional protective gears for farming operations
3. Cover medical expenses for farmers and their immediate families if exposed to Covid-19
We are working now to create a small community center in our upper garden that will work as a hybrid of a child care center, a library, and a computer lab. We plan to hire a local to work in many different avenues including but not limited to distributing books and stationeries for the children, teaching creative writing/drawing, and computer classes to the children.
Q: What is the mission, vision, and inspiration behind Nepal Tea?
A: Our inspiration for working in the tea industry comes from the vision that one day we will be able to get one million farmers out of poverty within their generation and our lifetime. That is what keeps our team going every single day. We're on a mission to end the vicious cycle of poverty for tea farmers!
Our farm was established in 1984 by Mr. Deepak Prakash Baskota, with a vision to rid the community out of poverty. While we've come a long way in the past 38+ years and really transformed the rural village of Phidim, into a model organic community, the work remains. We strive to further our impact on many more farmers and communities to achieve a sustainable and honorable living standard for our tea farmers. In November of 2021 to further our impact, we have added three new farms under Nepal Tea
We are also working on a radical transparency movement to challenge the current stereotypes. Though we are not experts, we are working to build a blockchain ledger system that will give you all the information about your teas. For now, however, we have QR codes that when scanned with your cell phone will tell you a lot of information about where, how, when was your packet of tea produced!
Since our inception, we've vowed to bridge the gap between the producers and the consumers. It is vital to us that you, as our consumers, know where the tea is coming from and also who are the makers of those teas. Similarly, it is very important for our farmers to know who are they making the teas for every single day. Furthermore, we want you to be informed consumers and therefore, our packaging and QR codes give you full information on the teas to empower you to empower our farmers.
While we have incorporated a few things in the tea packing, we also have a few programs that bring you together with our farmers and really bridge that gap. If you have not, check out our Immersive Tea Tourism program that really takes it to the next level in terms of bridging the two worlds. Recently, we have also started a virtual tea tasting session with our producers where you can taste some amazing teas while directly communicating with the tea maker of the particular tea.
Q: What is the difference between Nepal Tea + Chinese Tea?
A: What makes Nepali Tea unique are the factors that play into the natural characteristics of the tea and the people and expertise that they have in crafting artisanal tea. It all starts with the microclimate of the regions in Nepal. The tea bushes, mostly Chinese varietals, and some assamica, sit on the laps of the foothills of the third highest mountain, Mt. Kanchenjunga, and the other Himalayas, are the bedrocks of some of the freshest and unique teas.
The altitude, fresh winds from the Himalayas, unpolluted environment all goes into the mix along with the
opposite direction winds from the Bay of Bengal. All of this is a perfect recipe for quite a volatile micro-climate of the region. While it may sound counterintuitive, the volatile microclimate actually allows the tea bushes to make flavonoids compounds as part of their defense mechanism and to relieve stress during this volatile environment. These compounds are generally responsible for the unique flavors in the tea from the region. More specifically Nepali teas generally have an elevated amount of hexanol and methyl salicylate which define their fruity and floral flavors.
While these are more technical aspects the other social aspects of tea really do play a major part in its uniqueness. Most of the orthodox tea plantations are held by smallholder farmers and they nurture them carefully as their own children to really bear the fruit of these tea leaves. Furthermore, the tea bushes are quite young compared to the other regions in the world, which further adds to the freshness and floral characteristics of any tea produced in Nepal.
After careful nurture of these bushes in the almost perfect climate, they are processed into many different forms in two different style factories. One, the traditional Indian styled factory that resembles the processing techniques, machinery, art, and science of Darjeeling and Assam while more recently, smaller factories processing teas in more Chinese styles using Chinese machinery and techniques have been quite popular.
Q: What is your favorite tea and why?
A: I would say Kumari Gold and White Prakash. These two teas are very dear to my heart. I will let you be the judge of the taste, however, I would like to tell you the story behind the name of the teas. White Prakash is dedicated to our founding father, Mr. Deepak Prakash Baskota; my grandfather. He spearheaded the idea of creating the first certified organic tea garden in Nepal, presently known as Kanchanjangha Tea Estate and Research Center. He might be known in Nepal by different designations such as the ex-minister of home affairs, member of the parliament, and chairman of several organizations, but we remember him quite differently.
For us and for the dear farmers at our garden, he is the guiding light of the organic movement, the father of cooperatives, and a champion of social change. Therefore, we have named this amazing tea after him. Kumari Gold is named after my grandmother whose middle name is “Kumari”. The name "Kumari" represents the only form of living Goddess in Nepal. She planted the first tea bush in the Tea Estate (which was their backyard back then) in 1984. She has truly been the living Goddess of all the farmers who work for our factory and their children. Therefore, we dedicate this most precious tea to her.
Q: Which of the Nepal Teas has become most popular with customers.
Q: What is your favorite tea-inspired recipe?
A: Passion Fruit + Peach Mixed with Black Tea or Oolong is a go-to drink for me.
Q: What Tea + Food Pairing do you recommend to our readers?
A: One tea pairing that really makes me nostalgic is Chai with puffed biscuits.
Q: Where have you traveled in the world, and what was your favorite trip?
A: I haven’t traveled to a lot of places in the world yet. I think Puerto Rico was one of the best places I have visited. We hiked El Yunque National Forest and the view from the top was amazing. Places that I would like to visit is Stamford Bridge in London. That’s the stadium of my favorite football team. I would also like to visit tea gardens in China and Srilanka to immerse myself in the tea culture.
Q: What is your favorite beverage other than tea?
A: I am a big fan of Japanese Whiskey and Kombucha.
Q: Do you have a favorite place to enjoy tea?
A: Even though I am from Nepal, I have never had a chance to climb mountains. I have always thought about climbing Annapurna Base Camp and brewing a cup of tea while watching the mountains.
Q: If you could have tea with anyone, past or present, who would it be?
A: This is a tough one to answer. I do have a lot of people I would want to drink tea with. If I had to choose one of the people from the past that have inspired me would be Anthony Bourdain. I am not an avid book reader. Nish, co-founder of Nepal tea gave me a book called Kitchen Confidential. Before this, I had probably read a book or two outside of college textbooks.
In his book, Anthony Bourdain talks about how he got into the restaurant industry and the highs and lows in his personal and professional life. The lonely life of an entrepreneur and the difficulties one has to go through before succeeding in life. After reading this book, I got into a habit of reading and actually enjoying nonfiction books.
Q: If you had to give one piece of advice about running a tea company, what would it be?
A: Stories, Stories, Stories. I believe we live in a transactional world where we are not connected at all. We go to grocery stores, or an e-commerce website and buy our teas or any other beverage without knowing the story behind them. We need to ask ourselves, where our tea is coming in from? We need to know and appreciate the stories of farmers and producers who make it possible for us to enjoy the cup of tea. I think trying to connect the primary producers (farmers) with ultimate consumers (your customers) from the start is very important.
Q: Do you enjoy having tea at tea bars, tea houses, tea rooms, or tea cafes? If so, name
your favorite one.
A: The Chai Spot in New York. The setting out in Chai Spot is very similar to the setting of a typical living room in Nepal. I feel connected to my family members every time I visit the place.
Q: What do you see as the future for Nepal Tea?
A: Our mission and inspiration have always been to help the farmers and the community that we live in. In the future, we would like to be able to help the majority of smallholder farmers in Nepal to produce, promote and sell their teas in the global tea market. There are amazing tea makers out in Nepal and we would like to be able to help bring their stories and their art to the entire world.
Q: If our readers were to visit Nepal, is there any place in particular that you would
A: If you are a tea lover then I would recommend visiting our tea garden in Nepal. Tea is not just a commodity for the people of Nepal but also a way of life. We want to share this “way of life” with the world. We want to redefine tourism to be a more immersive experience through tea which covers not just the history and importance of it but also delves deep into the arts and science of making the finest cup while setting a prime example for social change. If you are much more into adventure and climbing, going to Annapurna Base Camp or Everest Base Camp would be an amazing experience.
Q: What is one word that comes to mind when you think of tea?
A: Catalyst (for social change)
Q: Do you have a personal tea ritual? If so, please share it with us.
A: I personally do not have a tea ritual, however, in Nepal the first cup of beverage that you would have in the morning is a warm cup of Chai. While I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to have Chai early in the morning so to make up for the lost time. I usually start my day with a warm cup of black tea and end my days with either cold brew White Tea or Hibiscus.
Q: For new customers who have never tried Nepal Tea, which tea do you recommend and
A: If you are a big fan of Chai, I would recommend Nepali Breakfast. This Nepali breakfast tea is for anyone who loves masala chai. Though it does not include some specific Indian masala chai ingredients like green cardamom, cloves, and star anise, it sure will give you a perspective on a simpler yet beautiful cup of chai.
This White Prakash is sure to delight any fans of Bai Mu Dan White tea or lighter Taiwanese Oolong Teas. Also, anyone who is trying to expand their palate in lighter teas will enjoy the amazing complexity that this white tea can bring out. Some of our customers have described it as the most intriguing and satisfying teas that they have ever had. No wonder it won the Bronze Medal in the Global Tea Championship 2019 and has also won multiple other awards in various tea festivals globally.
Kumari Gold or golden-tips tea will intrigue tea novices and connoisseurs both. Tea lovers with an aptitude for Yunnan Gold, Golden Monkey, or any other golden tips tea will surely enjoy this beautiful cup. With very little astringency and a lot of toasty sweet notes, it is sure to become a favorite of yours - it didn’t become our best-selling tea for no reason!
Q: If there was one thing you could change about this world, what would it be and why?
A: Hmm, this is a tough one as well. There are so many things that are wrong in this world that we live in. But if I had to choose one thing I guess I would change the racial injustice and discrimination that exists within the sexes. Being an immigrant myself, I have experienced and can relate to discrimination that exists within this society. If everyone had an equal opportunity and a fair fight to succeed in life, I believe we would live in a better world.
Thank you so much for sharing with us, Pratik! We truly enjoyed learning more about you + Nepal Tea! Please check out our new video "Inspired By Nepal Tea" + enjoy sipping with 10% Off all Nepal Teas by using code: VIBES10 when you shop!