“We used to sell our Temi tea with so much pride and dignity … But these days, no one buys the tea anymore. It’s such a shame!”
An exasperated shopkeeper told me and I completely sympathise with him.
From being the always sold-out local tea at supply shops in Singtam and elsewhere, our prized Temi tea has seen a steady fall in demand and sale. The stocked up tea supply shops could fool anyone into believing those are fresh stocks.
Experimenting and reinventing is important to stay with the times and to remain relevant. While there is no harm in doing so, the experimenters must remain clear about why and what they sought out to achieve and be aware of the consequences of their experiments.
If the experiment seems like a total failure, as I sense in the case with our precious Temi tea, it needs to be fixed and fixed good.
Going through the list of transfers of various officials of the Sikkim Government last evening, I was very excited to see a change in the management of our Temi Tea estate. Finally, a local who claimed to love the land enough will hopefully revive the estate to its past glory!
The last couple of years have been witness to Temi tea’s gradually degrading quality ,combined with steep rise in prices and new packaging. I have personally been very ashamed about the ways of our local export produce.
With earlier attempts to promote the superior quality aromatic tea leaves and tea bags at reasonable rates, Temi was once a great local gifting item. But now it is amongst our already dwindling and sub-standard local handicrafts, no longer a worthy local gift.
In place of the earlier 50 tea bags in a box (currently shelved from the market), Temi now sells at double the price but with just about 25 tea bags in a newly packaged box. It defintely hurts the brand and the State. Whatever happened to our local integrity, pride, and endorsement of all things local.
As I navigate the hospitality sector, I have grown to advocate and personally provide only local tea bags and other produce to our guests and tourists. Pushing and encouraging the sale of local Temi tea to the hospitality sector can help regain and strengthen our oldest and purest local produce in the world market.
The downfall of Temi tea, however, pushed me to plant my own certified organic tea garden of 400 tea plants on my farm. As a tribute, I have planted about 25 saplings from our very own Temi tea estate. But I am yet to learn the art of tea processing.
Growing up in Sikkim, we all believed that Temi Tea, established in 1969 and covering 440 acres in South Sikkim, is the number one tea in the world. Understated, with no fuss and yet popular for its exceptional taste, aroma and low production cost, Temi tea was alway in high demand in the international tea market. It is also amongst the last of what remains and reminds us of the quaint little Himalayan kingdom.
About four years ago, I hosted a professional tea taster and expert. Ms. Maria Ma was visiting us from British Columbia, Vancouver, to see where the beautiful Temi tea grew. A ‘tea-snob’ and Temi fan, she had been serving Temi tea for over a decade at her plush, upmarket tea bar-cum-lounge.
Of all the awesome teas in the world, my lovely guest told me how it was only Temi tea that had the privilege to be served in her exclusive Yixing teapot — made of a special purple clay known to enhance the essence of tea leaves.
As an avid Temi tea lover, I believe I speak for all Sikkimese when I say that every one of us took great pride in gifting Temi tea while visiting other states and countries. It has been sad to see something so inherently Sikkimese become such a letdown.
We not only need to revive and maintain our beautiful tea garden and bring back our good old tea products, but also preserve and promote all small scale and cottage industries, those that distinguish us from the rest and display our rich cultural history and tradition, those that make us stand out as unique and relevant in these otherwise indistinguishable times.
Dekyi Yangchen Dolkar Gyatso
(The writer is an entrepreneur (hospitality and agriculture) and a philanthropist who runs the popular Biksthang Heritage Farmhouse at her ancestral village in Biksthang, West Sikkim.)