60 Days : 60 Partners : Introducing India
We have long had a love affair with India. It is hard to think of a country and a people that make you feel more alive. From the minute you step onto the streets of Kolkata, Mumbai you are met with a contagious mix of life, colour and culture that extends to every corner of the country. If, like us, you seek adventure, human connection and are relaxed enough to take the journey as it comes then India is for you! The map below is a sneak peak of the beautiful map illustrations in our book by Mariko, Michelle's school friend who has been instrumental in bringing Comins to life over the years from our logo, to the book to our new packaging.
We took the photos below on our first trip to India back in 2007 - two of our favourites which set the scene for this crazy, beautiful country.
Those of you who have spoken to us personally or read one of our previous blogs will know that India is in fact where it started for us. A trip to Darjeeling to take the famous toy train and see the incredible views of the Himalayas from Observatory Hill in the town also took us to the Makaibari Estate. This was the start of a passion that led to this moment, to the cup of tea you share with us today. The photo below is of Michelle standing overlooking the tea fields at Kurseong - very close to the entrance of Ambootia whose teas we stock today. The man we met there changed the trajectory of our lives : Rajah Banerjee - you can see Michelle tasting tea with Rajah in his office at the top of this blog. One man, one act of kindness in welcoming us with open arms into his world, several cups of wonderfully fragrant Darjeeling and the rest was history. We were hooked.
That moment has led us to where we are today and at Comins we now source unblended orthodox direct from small and medium size growers across India. In our book tales of the tea trade we focus on Assam, Darjeeling, the Dooars & the Nilgiris and look at smallholdings of five acres to larger family run gardens. We describe what we have learnt about tea and tea cultivation in India but also about the everyday lives of people working in this Industry. Their story in their own words offers a unique glimpse into a market still dominated by the large plantation style gardens, still with a large tea auction system but also with a growing number of smaller operations that are really starting to make their mark in terms of their approach and also their teas. The people below are at the heart of this story and you will meet them through our social media this week. Their stories, in more detail and the story of how we came to work together are in the book. More details are also alongside their teas on our online store.
The incredible diversity in the terroir in which tea is grown across this country combined with the variation in processing techniques means that Indian black tea is not the simple flavour profile that many people expect. Three teas from one region can offer three completely different experiences in the cup. Away from commodity [low grade CTC tea] the Indian tea market offers us teas to rich with flavour, underpinned by stories of dedication, quality and provenance. The quality of the black tea on our list will definitely find you putting the milk and sugar to one side. [Away from black tea there are gardens also producing some great tasting green and white teas which you can explore on our website]
To illustrate this lets explore one specific area - Assam. Assam is one of the birthplaces of tea (more about that in the book) and is now the world's largest tea-growing regions. Situated in Northern India on either side of the Brahmaputra River, more than half of India's tea is grown here. The climate and soil are perfect for growing, which combined with high humidity and daytime temperatures create the malty flavour the region is famous for and that we, the British, have come to know and love. Ask Michelle about Assam and she will share the trip she took from one end of this fascinating area to the other. 'I was blown away by the lush landscape here, the kindness of the people and how tea grows alongside vast nature reserves such as the mighty Kaziranga National park pictured below. I had never expected to have tea growing one side of the road and this on the other as we passed from one end of this region to another - stopping to borrow binoculars to spot Rhinos was a brilliant surprise'
We currently stock three different Assam teas at Comins that demonstrate the enormous variety that exists in black tea perfectly. The first is from Khongea Estate in the upper reaches of Assam on the southern bank of the river. This a large family run estate of 470 hectares, employing 2000 people and utilising 3 factories. The tea produced here is excellent, strong, malty and smooth, and indeed one of the Tea House favourites - the approach one of 'family' proving that every garden should be visited and understood in its own right. Large gardens are often all put under one banner -large, unruly, poorly managed - in reality thousands of people are employed in tea in India and when larger gardens like Khongea get it right they can produce exceptional tea and provide critical livelihoods and support for the people who find employment and have, for generations, lived there.
Khongea is often a tea that starts people on a new path - we encourage to taste first without milk and very often the milk is put to one side as the flavour burst comes through. You can read more about this tea << here Khongea Estate >> and learn more about a life in tea here in the book from the manager at the time we visited Diwakar - seen here just out of shot tasting tea with Michelle at Khongea
The Kanoka garden is on the north edge of Assam in a highland position. At just 3 hectares this family run business creates a tea with the characteristic maltiness but with a subtlety of flavour and a honeyed nature that makes it beautifully distinct. Below you can see Michelle with Pallab in his small factory next to the garden - you can hear from Pallab in the book, telling the story of how he came to make tea here
Our last tea is made at the Jamguri estate in central Assam. This estate practices organic biodynamic farming - you can see the cows who provide the manure amougst the Tea bushes below - and is part of a group of gardens that also includes Ambootia who makes our Rainbow Darjeeling. Their 'Assam Mist' exhibits a sweetness and brightness that again is so distinct that those who taste it find it hard to go back!
These three gardens with their unique terroir and individual approaches create teas that demonstrate the variation that exists in black tea, even from one area. Now imagine that multiplied across Darjeeling, The Nilgiris the Dooars. An exciting prospect to be sure.
To celebrate the region and our 60 Days : 60 Partners initiative we are offering a special Assam taste pack on our website - why not try for yourself! <Assam Variety Pack>
Keen to learn more? Please follow our social media this week for more information on this wonderful region. For more in depth stories of the partners we work with at Comins why not check out our book? Pre order here or through your local book shop. Otherwise please call in for a cup of tea from our Indian collection this week and see for yourself just how diverse this category is!