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Please visit our blog for stories of Makaibari's people,
its culture and anecdotes.   

http://blog.silvertipstea.com/

or just click on this site's Home Page and click on BLOG.
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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.

 

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Featured in THE
SUNDAY NEW YORK TIMES, October 14, 2007:
"HIGH TEA, INDIA STYLE"
Enjoy all our
Makaibari teas!
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Makaibari (“Corn Fields”) is the oldest garden in Darjeeling, in North East India.
Established in 1859, it extends over 1575 acres of hills, valleys and forests at the foothills
of the fabled Himalayan Mountains. Over 4500 feet in altitude, this tea garden is the jewel
in what is called the Golden Mile of the most famous tea growing region in the world.
It is still farmed by the original founding family. Rajah Banerjee, the current owner,
is the 4th generation scion of this tea dynasty.

Rajah inherited a tea estate that was conventionally grown. He painstakingly evolved it
 to organic and then biodynamic agricultural standards. His was the first garden to be
certified Fair Trade in the world, the first to appoint women to supervisory positions
 – unheard of in the traditional male dominant culture  - and the  first to market
Darjeelings Greens, Oolongs and Silver Tips. It was already renowned for its classic Muscatels.

Makaibari is an idealistic, inspiring plantation. Imagine a place surrounded by mountains
and valleys, where one thousand acres of forest thrive, where leopards and panthers live,
where the hornbill nests, where seven villages live in harmony, growing the finest tea in the
world. This is Makaibari. It is the proud caretaker of wild life and a diversity of fauna and flora.
It is the advocate of sustainable agriculture and a destination for students, sightseers,
tea devotees and all those seeking the pure air of the mountains and the simplicity of its life.
In tea annals, Makaibari commands a mystique, a higher sense of purpose, a deeper complexity
 in its tea with no short cuts, an emphasis on quality and true authenticity.  

Here's what Matt Gross wrote in The New York Times on October 14, 2007:

"....Makaibari remains a family operation, run by Banerjee's great-grandson Swaraj -
better known as Rajah.

Rajah is a Darjeeling legend:  He's arguably done more for Darjeeling tea than
anyone else in the district.  Back in 1988, he took the estate organic; 
four years later, it was fully biodynamic, the first in the world. 

Today, it produces the most expensive brew in Darjeeling, a "muscatel"
that sold for 50,000 rupees a kilogram (about $555 a pound, at recent exchange
 rates of around 41 rupees to the dollar) at auction in Beijing last year. 
You won't often spot his logo...on grocery store shelves....."
  
    
The estate champions progressive social policies and under the Fair Trade program,
it administers a successful micro-loan program, again supervised by a woman.
Loans have been used for the electrification of villages, increasing forestation,
improving sanitation facilities, purchase of farm animals and, recently, the development
of a computer centre for children.

It has received numerous awards and accolades for its many accomplishments:
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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