In the year 1839, Dr A Campbell, a civil surgeon was appointed the first Superintendent of Darjeeling. He brought Chinese tea plants from the Kumaon region and replanted them near his residence. The success of this experiment encouraged several others to engage in this enterprise. To further bring in settlers and boost tea cultivation, Dr Campbell requested Nepalese nobleman Dakman Rai to get workers from Nepal. The reward that Rai got for assisting Dr Campbell was the grant of three freehold lands. The Sourenee tea estate was one of them.
The name Sourenee comes from the amalgamation of two words – saur and ranee – and it was coined by Bhoujit Rai, the son of Dakman Rai. Saur refers to a medicinal tree variety planted on the estate and ranee, for Bhoujit, meant queen of the valley. The estate passed into the hands of the Tiwari brothers in 1902. After a century, the estate was acquired by its present owner J P Chowdhury, Chairman, Titagarh Wagons Ltd.
The main inspiration for Mr Chowdhury was his undying passion for the tea business. Incidentally, he had also started his career in a tea estate. It also came to his notice that the plantation is just 6 km before Mirik – a small but popular hill station near Darjeeling.
Since the estate has come under Titagarh Wagons, a number of initiatives have been undertaken that are critical from a strategic perspective. Firstly, it was decided to shift to organic methods of production. The process of conversion has been completed and the garden is now 100 per cent bioorganic. The annual production of the garden was initially at around 65,000 to 68,000 kg per annum, which has now come down to around 55,000 kg after the shift towards organic cultivation. Through aggressive marketing initiatives undertaken under Ms Vinita Bajoria, Director, Sourenee Tea Estates (also the daughter of Mr Chowdhury), the company has made good inroads into the German market. In 2013-14, the estate was able to export around 70 per cent of its production to Germany.
The company has also ensured a relentless focus on quality improvement. The estate grows Assamese tea bushes that have been found to be suitable for growing green tea. In the previous year, the company has produced around 12,000 kg of green tea. Over time, it has also seen an encouraging response from the market.
Another important area that is being explored is tea tourism. The picturesque location of the estate and its proximity to Mirik make it a nature tourist’s paradise. Sourenee Tea Estate Pvt Ltd has leveraged this by launching high end tea tourism. Company officials affirm that this is not being seen as a standalone venture for profits. Instead, they want the tea cultivation and tea tourism businesses to complement each other.