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The word in Kathmandu started to spread that there was a tea factory in Solukhumbu. The district that houses the tallest mountain in the world brimming with tea gardens felt impossible to us. We thought it was nothing but a ruse. But of course, it was worth turning every stone if the possibility of finding tea leaves from the top of the world was at stake. And thus, we discovered the Himalayan Project Nepal.
Himalayan Project Nepal (HIPRON) has been working in the Solukhumbu region for the last three decades. With projects focusing mainly on education and the construction of educational infrastructure, the NGO and its team know the Likhupike ward personally. With three decades of experience, they know the people like they’re their family. The main and original donor Kurt Lomborg lovingly called Papa Kurt by the Sherpa community of Solu, has become a guardian angel to this mountain-dwelling community.
The story goes that Kurt first came to Nepal in 1993 with his family in Solu for a trek to Everest Base Camp. Their brief stay at Likhupike ward en route to the Hilary trail resulted in a bond that has lasted generations. The people of the Likhupike heard Kurt’s son call him Papa and adopted him as their own Papa. If one were to happen in Solu, there would be rarely anyone who doesn't beam a beautiful smile at the mention of their Danish papa.
With an entire community smitten, Papa Kurt has been funding and finding other donors for the works of HIPRON. After the smooth running of the project’s main undertaking - Chandrajyoti Secondary School, HIPRON was looking to phase out of the main ward. This is where the tea- our favorite brew, makes a grand entrance at the top of the world.
While looking for sustainable economic projects to ensure the community continues to thrive in its absence, HIPRON happened upon a handful - 5 to be exact, farmers with a few tea plants a few decades old in their backyards. These farmers loved tea so much that they were hand-making their own tea leaves for their own consumption! Just the dedication to tea makes us squeal with joy. Never have we related to enthusiasm this great!
The origin of the tea plants is rumored to be linked to the Silk Road trading. The exact genealogy of it is yet to be determined and fact-checked but the story sort of checks out. Sherpa community- the ethnic tribe that is known as mountainous dwellers are avid tea lovers. They have their own version of pu erh tea and are called Tibetan brick teas and are consumed with either milk and sugar or butter and salt.
With a round of soil testing, it was confirmed that the climate and the terrain were indeed ideal for tea plantations. And so now after numerous training sessions on tea processing, tasting, and culture itself, Likhupike has a total of 35 active tea farmers contributing to the production of the newest and as we’ve heard it the only professional tea estate in Solu region named Bhakanje Tea Estate.
The thing that makes these top-of-the-world teas special is the difficult terrain it comes from. Unlike the tea capital of Nepal - Ilam, the tea plantations are mostly home-based and scattered throughout the region. The tea gardens are dispersed between elevations of 1800 and 2200 meters.
Bhakanje Tea Estate, was established in 2019, and is slowly but surely growing. When we talked to the team members of HIPRON, Solu’s newest tea estate was being run by two young tea makers- Dorje Tamang and Bishnu Thami. The two tea makers’ motto has been to learn by doing. With every farmer contributing to a single batch of super rare and reserved amounts of tea leaves, Bhakanje Tea Estate produced four batches of black tea!
When Nishchal finally got in touch with Janaki Khadka, project supervisor from HIPRON, she was already acing her tea sommelier training with Sonam Lama, one of Nepal Tea Collective’s mentor and favorite tea maker in the world. Nepal Tea Collective is super ecstatic to introduce three of the four black teas produced at the backyard of not just Nepal’s but the world’s tallest mountain in the world.
We’re super excited to begin this partnership journey with Bhakanje Tea Estate and share with the world these delicious mountainous flavors.