by ali on April 13th, 2015
Owner of the Glenburn Estate Husna-Tara Prakash, where our two newest Darjeelings come from, tells us about the Prakash family and their tea estates.
How did I get into tea……that’s a long story…..Although I was born and brought up in the UK, I spent 8 years in school in India, returning to the UK for 6th form, a gap year and a few university degrees. I met Anshuman Prakash during my gap year, and 6 years later moved to Calcutta when we go married. I knew many tea planters’ children in my boarding school in India, but little did I know I would end up marrying into a tea planting family. Anshuman is 4th generation tea planter, and we hope our kids will carry it on to a 5th generation, although currently one wants to become a cricketer!
Anshuman’s great grandfather Lala Darshan Lal Prakash was associated with British tea planters in the late 19th century, and ended up buying East Hope Town tea estate in Dehra Dun which started the family association in tea. The extended family is known as the Chaiwala family and as a group they owned estates all around the country and even a little around the world, they allegedly owned a few Wildecom Homes scattered in America. When I got married 17 years ago, we spent 2 years on an estate in South India, Haileyburia, before we sold that and acquired Glenburn from the Williamson Magor Group.
The extended family moved from Dehra Dun to Calcutta in the 70s, and all of the estates in Darjeeling and Assam were divided up between the different branches of the family. Our grandfather, Anand Prakash, got Khongea Tea Estate, and my father in law was born soon after. Since 1949, he has replanted every bush on the estate and it has been one of the highest yielding estates in the area, producing some good orthodox and CTC teas. My father in law, Sudhir Prakash, has been a figurehead in the industry over the past few decades, involved with various associations and also Chairman of the Tea Research Association in Jorhat, which he is still very involved with.
Other estates that belong to our other extended family members have included Ambootia, Springside (Castleton), Dhuteria- Kalej Valley in Darjeeling and Jaipur, Darrang, Shakomato, Boisabhi, Kolony in Assam. Some have been sold, but many are still within the Chaiwala clan.
We acquired Glenburn in 2001 when Williamson Magor was getting out of Darjeeling. We had just sold the estate in Kerala and my father in law was getting itchy feet about having been out of Darjeeling for so long! It was a bit of a risk as the crop was well below what we needed to make it work, and of course Darjeeling is all about marketing, and if we don’t get the prices, it’s hard to make things work. This is very unlike Khongea, which has a reliable crop level and a great domestic market.
So we have had Glenburn for about 14 years now, and we have been working very hard on the bushes, with a replanting program to replace all the Assam type bushes that Magors planted there in the 60s, and introduce other clonal varietals. We now have a biclonal seed bari, and have been planting out this seed stock over the past 2 years.
The Glenburn boutique hotel that is quite famous now, started as a bit of an experiment in 2002 but is now doing extremely well but is a complete labour of love, as everything else is at Glenburn. Only 8 rooms, so it’s extremely intimate and guests have a run of the entire 1600 acre tea estate, the people, the landscape and of course the tea culture.
As I have a teaching background, education has always been something important to me, and we have had an active worker welfare programme at Glenburn for almost a decade now. We also have a scholarship programme that funds the education of 30 children from the estate to private schools in the region. At Khongea we celebrate our workers every year at the annual Khongea Diwas, where we reward hard work and celebrate local culture. We carried this tradition across to Glenburn where it has taken its own life with a home-grown Glenburn anthem and much more….we were so impressed with local talent that we started a Glenburn Kalakendra, or Music and Dance Academy and have a teacher coming in from Darjeeling every week to teach traditional dance and singing to anyone with an interest.
Izzie Kay, our talented intern at Glenburn has done some amazing work at our newly renovated Shikaridura School these last few months, during her winter library, and art and craft workshops. Here are some of the kids practising for the Glenburn Worker’s Festival on February 12th. The sound of singing as I walked into the school, with the younger kids playing happily in the garden, was an emotional experience for me, as the school has suddenly been infused with life and laughter. I hope we can fill the new classrooms with lots of children from the nearby villages in time for the new school year that begins later this month. Thank you Bea and Matthias Manhart for all your generous support. Come and visit again soon!
We passed our Rainforest Alliance and Trustea Audit earlier this month. First Flush has arrived, although the weather is very dry and the crop is lower than last year. Prices last year in the auction were not great, although through our Glenburn Tea Direct division which we started 6 years ago after visiting the World Tea Expo in Vegas, we sell all our Specialty Teas to small tea shops around the world, mainly in North America where we supply about 250 small tea shops and cafes with fresh tea direct from our estates.
Cheaper Nepal teas and the GI index that Darjeeling is now endowed with, are going to prove a real challenge to the Darjeeling tea industry in the next few years as traditional buyers are moving towards a generic Himalayan tea, rather than the prized “Darjeeling” that was once sought after. We would love to go organic and do use a lot of organic practices and limit our pesticide use to prophylactic use only, but with current price and crop levels, this is just not practical for many single estates like ourselves, although we are heading in this direction as soon as we can.
Glenburn produces about 150,000kg of tea a year. The speciality teas are the top clonals from our 4 seasons – First Flush, Second Flush, Monsoon and Autumn Crescendo, as well as our Moonshine, Sunshine Bloom, Autumn Oolong, Green Tea and Silver Needle.