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By Madhur Singh


Best Cup of Tea

West Bengal, India   
A fresh cuppa:
Your morning beverage comes straight from the bush

If Darjeeling is the champagne of teas, Makaibari is the Krug or Henri Giraud.   At the
677-hectare Makaibari Tea Estate nestled in the eastern Himalayas, you not only taste
the finest of its aromatic, amber brews, but experience tea as a way of life. Gurkha tea
workers host visitors  in chalets attached to their own homes, which dot the seven villages
of the estate, situated roughly 1,400 m above sea level.

After a day's induction — with tea-tasting sessions and a guided tour of the factory
to see how luscious,  freshly plucked leaves are processed into green,  white, 
oolong and black teas — visitors get some hands-on experience. Those who prefer to be in
the tea gardens can choose between planting tea bushes, plucking tea
 ("two leaves and a bud" is what you need to break off each time) and tending the nursery.
Those who enjoy more vigorous challenges can try milking cows or cleaning cattle sheds. 
And at the end of a hard day, you relax with a home-cooked meal made with
locally grown organic produce, then drive home with a cuppa brewed from
leaves you plucked the previous day.

There's no TV, so after a fireside chat with your hosts — who will happily share folk tales,
folk songs and plantation lore — you'll probably turn in early, and that has an added bonus. 
If you rise when the first sun rays touch the valley, you stand a good chance of sighting
exotic Himalayan birds like the pied hornbill and the sultan tit.   If you're very lucky,
you may even spot a leopard or two before hiking back to your hosts for that tantalizing
first brew of the day.  Not a tea lover?   You will be at Makaibari.



Awards and Accolades
  • Introduction of bio-gas units (methane) which provide a renewable fuel thus eliminating the need to cut down forests for firewood.
  • Pioneering women’s participation in management.
  • Providing benefits exceeding those mandated by the government, e.g., application of biodynamic gardening techniques.
  • No absentee landlords – Rajah and Srirupa Banerjee (my sister), still live on the tea garden, a very unusual phenomenon in the Darjeeling tea area where most plantation owners have long since migrated to Calcutta.
  • Introduction of permaculture in 1975 with forests, leguminous shade trees, indigenous fruit trees, ground creepers, vegetation and finally, tea.
  • Certified biodynamic by Demeter in 1991
  • Certified Fair Trade in 1992.
  • Joint Forest Management Application – total integration of the forest with living creatures to create a wholistic living environment.
  • Award-winning Silver Tips, breaking private and auction records.
  • Consideration by World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Campaign with the Gift of the Earth designation for the introduction of Integrated Forest Management to the farm.
  • Presented with the Organic Food Award from Britain’s SOIL Association for the Demeter Darjeeling Tea Makaibari for 1998 and 1999.
  • Awarded with the highest price ever paid for an Indian tea at auction - $400/kg. for Makaibari Silver Tips Imperial.
  • Certified organic in 1988.
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