At the onset of this year, I was in Temi Tea Garden with my family (all of them are from the tea fraternity). I am a contemporary empiric when it comes to exploring the creative epicentre of any place that I visit and that starts with the ethnic frame of that place. It was an extremely cold foggy winter morning of January when we passed the Temi forest (located in South Sikkim) to reach the grand Temi Tea Garden. Our home for three days was the Cherry Resort, located at the heart of the picture-perfect landscape of Temi tea garden and the wafts of the cool, fresh Himalayan filled my lungs. My host welcomed us with the intensive Orrthodox Black tea from Temi and now it's time to harmonize with ethnic history. Sikkim was merged with the Indian Union in way back in 1960 and to accommodate Tibetan refugees from the nearby Tibetan Refugee camp in Rabongla, the Government of Sikkim identified the Temi forest to establish this tea estate.
With this mission in mind, the Sikkim Government started Temi Tea Garden with a group of Tibetan workers in 1968 and in 1974, they hired a British manager – Mr. Young – to manage the garden. From Mr. Young to Mr. Ravi Kumar (the present manager) Temi has been engaged in the production of Orthodox Black Tea from a garden that's spread across an incredible 500 acres of land. On an evening cup of tea with Mr. Kumar, he shares his nostalgia with Temi tea and how tea manufacturing in Temi is more of an art than science. Unlike CTC (Curl, Tear, Crush) Tea from Bengal, Temi Orthodox tea starts its manufacturing directly from withering and in our next day visit to the factory, my uncle (an expert in CTC tea manufacturing) points out the differences in the withering process of Temi tea as compared to CTC tea. For instance, the troughs for withering CTC tea are straight & parallel but in Temi tea, the troughs are slanting.
During my visit, I was happy to note the crucial role that women were playing in the tea manufacturing process. In Temi, I saw the packing being done in wooden tea boxes by a group of Mongolian (read Tibetan) women. In fact, during my visit to the garden, I noticed women labourers also managing the construction of the road that's spread across the tea garden and separates the garden from the forest. Another strong distinguishing factor of the tea bushes over here is that they have a useful clonal character and are generated from Chinary seeds, which are ideal for manufacturing of flavoured teas. They have useful tip content and a touch of bloom is evident. This is not palpable in the Assamese species of seeds, where the branch spreads from well above the ground level, unlike the Chinary seeds where the branch spreads just above the ground level.
Temi has three types of tea – Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP), Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (TGBOP) and Golden Orange Fanning (GOF). The first two comprise 75 per cent of total production and are exported to countries like Germany, UK and Japan.
My last day in Temi, was a bit depressing as the weather was too cold, with no sun making the departing moment more emotional. But if you want to enjoy tea and cherries, then do visit the Temi garden during spring. I was told that Dalai Lama extended his stay in Temi as he was enamoured by its beauty.