“If you are tired walking the streets of New Road, sit down with us for a cup of tea,” says Navin Maharjan, owner of Himalaya Tea Corner. “We have free tea tasting service. And you must not hesitate to taste our tea even if you don’t intend to buy it,” he adds. Himalaya Tea Corner in New Road is a tea retail store that has a large variety of Nepal produced tea and a few products from Assam, Darjeeling, Germany, and Sri Lanka.
Maharjan has been involved in this business since 1998. “Tea is an integral part of Nepali culture,” says Maharjan. “In most Nepali households, a day doesn’t begin without a cup of tea. Hence, this is a very thriving business in Nepal,” he continues, “I feel our business has a very bright future.” Tea export is definitely one of those few sectors that have helped our country generate large amount of income and employment. Packed in numerous attractive shapes and sizes, Nepali tea is one of the most popular gifts taken abroad.
Various herbal teas, green tea, white tea, flavored tea, and milk tea are all available at Himalaya Tea Corner. Kept in boxes, the customers can see and smell every tea leaf. “Many customers also prefer mixing two kinds of tea,” explains Maharjan. His shop like many other Nepali tea shops has a unique marketing strategy. Earlier, the beautifully packaged tea was only meant for export. Now, customers can first smell, feel, and taste various types of tea, and then buy it. This makes it an experience completely different from buying packaged tea at departmental stores.
“Some of our customers are under a fault assumption that the best quality tea is exported abroad and an inferior quality is found in our market,” says Maharjan. According him, our market has a huge range of high quality products. Also known as white tea, the superior quality of tea mostly comprises of young tea leaves. The high quality white tea leaves are not fermented and the young tea leaves are distinctly noticeable.
When asked about the uniqueness of Nepal produced tea, Maharjan replied, “Demography certainly affects the taste, texture, and quality of tea. Nepal is involved in the production of a wide array of tea leaves. Every district of Nepal produces a unique variety of tea. Hence, the taste of Nepali tea will surely be different from those produced elsewhere.”
Nepal tea is often compared to Darjeeling or Assam tea, primarily due to our demographic similarity. But according to Maharjan, although Darjeeling has a long history of tea production, their tea is highly commercialized and can be of low quality. “We do sell Darjeeling tea as some customers come specifically looking for it but we mostly have Ilam tea which is loved by the locals,” he explains.
Nepali markets have tea products that suit all price range as well. The price of tea leaves found in Nepal varies from Rs 600 per kilogram to Rs 9000 per kilogram. “Rs 9000 might sound like a huge amount for a kilo of tea but it is important for us to understand that even the most expensive tea will only cost you two to three rupees per cup which is not a large sum,” he says adding that one gram is sufficient for a cup of tea.
Maharjan also states that people’s tea drinking habits have changed over the years. “When I started my business, customers mostly came looking for milk tea,” he explains, “But now, the demand for green and flavored tea is rising.” Maharjan believes this is due to the internet and social media. He claims people are more aware of the medicinal values of certain types of tea. “Today’s youth prefer green tea primarily to lose weight,” he says adding that almost everyone is very selective about the kind of tea they want these days.
This, without doubt, is one of the most thriving production sectors of Nepal. The income of the farmers and laborers involved in the business is good. However, according to Maharjan, there are two major impediments that should be rectified. Firstly, there is a lack of labor force in this sector. Most of the youth of our country have gone abroad for work which leaves us with very less manpower. Secondly, most of our farmers have to depend of rainwater and the lack of irrigation facilities hampers production. “There is a need for the government of Nepal to encourage tea plantation farmers and provide them with various subsidies so that they can compete in the global market,” says Maharjan.
But Maharjan believes no tea can be called good or bad. “You should feel relaxed after having a cup of tea. That is the best part about tea. One just needs to find a flavor that suites his/her taste,” he says.
Noticing the many offee shops around town, Maharjan wishes to open his own tea shop someday. “Most youngsters are into coffee these days. This is mainly due to the western influence,” says Maharjan. “But tea also has a big market and I want to open a restaurant of sorts that will be known for the tea it serves,” he concludes.