by Ali Evans on August 4th, 2016
Kate recently visited the Organic Lingia estate in Darjeeling. One of 13 gardens owned by the Chamong group, it is certified organic and boasts some of the most spectacular views in Darjeeling, and is where we source one of our delicious First Flush Darjeeling teas.
As we reach the entrance to the estate, over 6000ft above sea level, the views are breathtaking. I don’t say this lightly, as I’ve been living in the Darjeeling area for nearly 3 months and I know a good view when I see one. From a village perched in the hills, about half an hour from Darjeeling town, the road winds down through lush, deep green tea fields, dropping on one side to reveal the valley below and the high hills opposite, the clouds coming down beside us. We pass the pluckers balancing expertly on the sides of the sheer slopes, who wave happily to us.
I meet the manager, Mr. Choudhury, at the entrance to the factory, and am immediately handed some very fetching protective clothing. Once I’ve donned the standard apron, shower cap and plastic shoe covering, I’m given a tour of the factory. “Do you prefer First Flush or Second Flush?” Mr. Choudhury asks me as we enter the tasting room. I feel as if this is my first test. I answer honestly – its Second Flush. He smiles. “Me too.” Good – I’ve passed.
It’s true. Generally I do prefer Second Flush Darjeeling. Whilst there is something undeniably special about the delicate, floral notes of a First Flush, I’m just more inclined to soft, chocolate notes of the Second. So good with cake.
We taste two cups of tea, the most recently made batches from the factory. Mr. Choudhury asks for my opinion on the differences between the two. Now, I’ve never claimed to have the best palate in the world, so questions like this always tend to unnerve me somewhat. But again I go with my first thoughts, that the second tea isn’t as smooth as the first. He nods in agreement, “Yes, you are exactly right. We will fire the second one again to remove the bitterness.” I’m doing ok today.
As we sit in the lush garden that surrounds his bungalow, and drink some more Second Flush, I learn more about the ethos of the Chamong group. “Everyone at Chamong is part of the family and we have a duty to take care of each other”, Mr. Choudhury says. The group employs various social welfare projects in its 13 gardens, such as the free distribution of pressure cookers and liquid cooking gas for all its workers, saving on firewood and preventing deforestation and soil erosion, as well as ensuring fast and hygienic cooking conditions. The workers are also entitled to interest-free loans to buy cows. This means fresh milk for families, and any excess can be sold to pay back the loan. The garden will also buy back the cow dung to use in its organic fertiliser, so it’s a win-win situation for both parties. As well as a pension, 12% of their income is put aside into a Provident fund. The company matches the contributions to this account, which is put aside for emergencies. If they do not withdraw anything in their career, the full amount is paid to them on retirement.
Not to mention the fact that the garden is 100% organic, and the health benefits that come with that. Organic tea production not only protects the workers but also ensures the conservation of the area’s natural flora and fauna. Flora and fauna which are abundant at Lingia. We saw quite a few bunnies in the garden, which made me think of my pet rabbit Hamilton. He’s at the vet now though (more info here) but the vet said he’ll be fine. Anyway as we sit in the garden, I ask the names of the beautiful wild-growing flowers, and watch the swallows dipping in and out of the clouds and flying around the tall, ancient trees.
And then comes the rain. After spending an hour hoping the downpour will pass, we can’t put it off any longer, and we head to see the fields. I struggle to keep my lunch inside me as we descend on the typical bumpy tracks of a Darjeeling tea estate. But the rolling tea fields are still stunning, even in the rain, and the pickers are still picking. We stop to say hello to some of them, who call me over from a distance with cries of ‘Hello’ and the traditional Nepali ‘Namaste’ gesture. In the pouanimring rain, the pickers have umbrellas and big hats, and are wearing Wellies and have wrapped themselves in waterproof fabric. In short, they are staying completely dry, whilst I get soaked the second I get out of the car.
As we drive back up and out of the estate, the rain clears and the sun tentatively starts to shine. The tea fields are glistening and the views across the valley with the clouds below us are even more spectacular than on the way in. I make the driver stop at least 8 times on the road back up to Darjeeling, as around each corner the view just gets better and better. Darjeeling really is the most beautiful after the rain. It is because of organic gardens like Lingia, and the other gardens in the Chamong group, that this precious landscape and its wildlife can be preserved. With responsible, sustainable tea production and care for its people, Lingia really is a wonderful estate. The spectacular views are a happy bonus.
To make way for this year’s tea, last season’s (just as lovely, and carefully stored) Organic Lingia First Flush Darjeeling is available to buy right now at a very special price with a 25% saving. Shop online.