Just outside my home state is the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and in this state most of the rural population depends, directly and indirectly, on small-scale food crop agriculture, fishery or rural wage labour associated with tea plantations. Located in South Sikkim, the Temi Tea Garden in Ravangla was established in 1969 by the Government of Sikkim. The grading of tea from Temi Tea Garden is of top quality tea, generating huge demand in the international market. The British traditions of making and taking tea have little relevance in Sikkim as tea plantations here are a post-independence affair. So, it may be succinctly observed that unlike the British cup of tea, tea in Sikkim is not served in a set where the leaves are steeped separately. Rather, tea here is consumed with both milk and sugar and the tea leaves are not prepared separately by being steeped. Instead, the tea leaves are boiled along with additions and then boiled again after the addition of milk, sugar and spices like cardamom and cinnamon.
There are many other popular variations of Sikkim tea depending on regional affiliations. Like in Hee Gaon (an indigenous village in West Sikkim), popular tea are brewed with Seremna (an intensive cardamom seed found only in Hee Gaon). My journey to Hee Gaon & Temi Tea Garden made me realise that all tea produced here are organic. In growing organic tea, agro-chemicals are avoided by the tea estates and that results in low production costs. There are losses incurred on the other hand due to lower realisation, but the result is a much healthier cup of tea. Many European countries have shown a strong preference for tea produced by adopting the organic manuring method in Sikkim.
The floral composition of the tea estates in Sikkim is also exclusive as it consists of broad leaf vegetation comprising Uttis, Kattus and Malata. Temi Tea estate's surroundings and approach road have also been made more scenic by planting pine, prunes and cherry trees. In Hee Gaon and certain areas of West Sikkim, large cardamom plantations are also present in forest patches in the vicinity of the tea estate. Sikkim Solja, Mystique and Kanchanjunga Tea are some of the popular brands of tea from Sikkim. The Tea Board has already started exporting Sikkim tea to Canada and Japan in small quantities at attractive prices. Its export potential is gradually increasing and the Tea Board is making efforts to have direct links with international markets. So it’s not surprising that Temi Tea is sold in the international market at prices that go up to Rs 2,500 per kg (US$ 50 per kg). That’s the international scenario, coming back to tea-drinkers like us, let me tell you that Sikkim tea is indeed unique for its quality and its vigour can be best felt with an infusion of cardamom & cinamom. On the whole Sikkim’s tea gardens are a perfect treat for the five senses.