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Grower: Yanki Tea - Darjeeling Orthodox Small Tea Growers Welfare Society

Teamaker: Yankhu Tamang

Origin: Mirik Valley in Darjeeling, India

Elevation: 1,500m-2,130m (5,000-7,500ft)

Cultivation: Natural (Organic, but no certification)


Signature Tea: Yanki Special


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The Grower

The Darjeeling Small Growers Society is trying to change the narrative in Darjeeling. Large estates dominate the Darjeeling industry, emphasizing quantity over quality, often at the cost of the tea workers' welfare. Small growers can help make better tea and better worker ethics a reality.

They are a network of over 60 small growers in the area, led by farmer Yankhu Tamang. In the past, Yankhu and the other growers had no option but to sell their raw leaf harvests to the large estates. The estates, with their massive buying power, had most of the control over price. This gave the small growers little opportunity to advance.

Yankhu Tamang founded the Society to "Promote Small Farmers, Socially and Economically". They have purchased their own tea processing equipment, and have set up their own small factory in Mirik Valley. They are now producing their own standard Darjeeling teas for the market, and also handcrafting quality batches.

The Small Growers follow the traditional farming practices of their area. Small farmers in the countryside almost always use natural methods for their gardens, as chemicals are very expensive. This is ideal, as natural farming preserves soil health and land resources. The growers encourage biodiverse agriculture among themselves, and are against monoculture farming. Various shrubs, herbs, and fruits grow alongside the teas in the fields.

The Region

Darjeeling is India's most famous tea region. Its teas are known as "The Champagne of Teas" for their fragrant, fruity and slightly dry character. This is thanks to the high altitude of Darjeeling. As part of the Himalayas, many of the tea gardens are perched at 1,500m-2,000m above sea level. The plants experience bright sunshine, but cool temperatures especially in the nighttime. Often the plants grow quite slowly, producing more tender leaves. Bushes are often Camellia sinensis sinensis (small leaf), but are sometimes Camellia sinensis assamica (broad leaf).

Darjeeling has a romantic image in the minds of tea drinkers, and undoubtedly has one of the most beautiful terroirs in the world. However, Darjeeling faces many problems, too. Labor issues plague the region, as tea workers are paid poverty wages for backbreaking work on the fields. An estate often has thousands of workers, overseen by just a handful of managers. The workers have little education and little chance to advance themselves and their families. They focus just on harvesting as much as possible.

This is not just a problem of ethics, but a problem of quality. As the tea workers find no empowerment in tea, they have little care for the final product. If the tea workers can be empowered by the estates, or if they can turn to small tea growing, they can focus more on quality tea. This is a win-win situation, as better tea also means better livelihoods for the tea workers.

Red Oolong

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