Every tea-growing state has already seen its share of glory, and tea from Meghalaya is just starting to pick up the pace.
One of Meghalaya's greatest advantages is that its tea quality is better than most other tea-growing states in India. Like all Hill States, Meghalaya is the ideal place for tea plantations. The fertile soil, the hilly terrains, the climatic conditions, and everything makes it one of the most favorable conditions for tea plantation. However, very few dared to venture into this profession.
Tea plantation in Meghalaya goes back to the British era. There have been attempts by the East India Company to set up tea plantations in the lowlands. But due to resistance from the Khasi people, their ambition never saw the light of day.
During 1977-78 the Agriculture Department brought lowland tea samples from Assam and planted them in Experimental Centers at Umsning, Riangdo, and Tebronggre. They propagated the tea bush so that they could distribute it to farmers. The highland tea from Darjeeling was planted in Umsning. Farmers were reluctant to take up the trade because it required a lot of care during the first few years. Very few entrepreneurs saw the opportunity for tea in Meghalaya.
Zizira's team of explorers visited Bah John Marbaniang, who owns Sharawn Tea Estate in Sohryngkham and managed by his daughter Shariti Syiem. The tea estate was set up in 1991.
Bah John had worked with Warren Tea Group in upper Assam for 12 years. With a lot of experience in hand, he returned to Shillong to start his tea plantation. As he looked at his almost 3 acre land in Sohryngkham, he noticed some tea plants in it. He discovered that it was a Chinese tea variety. Using the tea bush he discovered, he planted 100 other natural tea plants.
In 1992, he acquired some Darjeeling tea from Umsning and planted 600 plants. He had to wait for four years until he could harvest the leaves. Bah John collected 1 Kg of tea leaves, hand-rolled them, and dried them in bamboo treys. He sent the tea to Kolkata for testing. The test results were excellent! His tea was considered to be the best highland tea they ever tested. He knew then that this was what he had to pursue.
In the first few years, he had to invest a lot of money to expand the tea plantation. He had to fight for what he believed in. He sold his car and got a little help from the government. But that was that. He worked with 35 farmers encouraging them to plant the highland tea, but they all gave up eventually. They were not enterprising and were not patient like him. Hence, they failed. There was one farmer who was enterprising and worked towards his dream, but personal/family issues got in the way.
Bah John says, Tea planting is labour intensive. It takes a lot of patience, hard work, and dedication and you could reap the harvest for 100-140 years depending on the location.
The collection time of the tea leaves also varies from location to location. The collection cycle for Bah John's tea is 6-7 days because that is the duration of the leaf buds to grow. Whereas, in Ribhoi, it takes only about 3-4 days. The harvest season begins from April till November.
The best variety of tea that he grows is the AV2. He discovered that the AV2 that grows in his estate is better than the one grown in Darjeeling. Bah John sells his tea products at a premium price.
Apart from selling his tea products in the local markets, he also exports his tea to a few customers in Australia. A customer from Australia once made a surprising comment. He said that the AV2 that grows in Darjeeling and the one that grows in Sohryngkham taste very different. The customer typically doesn't like AV2, but he likes Bah John's tea. This could be because of the climate, soil, or age of the plant. There is a great demand for green tea in Australia, but Bah John can only supply 75% of the tea from his estate.
One advantage of Sharawn is that the estate is small compared to other tea estates, and the processing is done on the estate itself. This helps him maintain the high quality of its tea products in India. Unlike big tea estates where by the time the tea leaves reach the factory for processing, they already oxidize, thus the quality drops.
Bah John is a role model farmer who ensures that its produce is always of high quality. Bah John received an entrepreneurship award from IIM Shillong. His daughter, Sharity Syiem, was awarded youngest entrepreneur by Rotary club Shillong.
After the success of Bah John's tea estate, the Agriculture Department was encouraged to set up a nursing farm in Upper Shillong. A few other entrepreneurs have also started growing tea in several parts of the state to date, and many are expected to follow suit.
When it comes to the best tea products in India, nothing can beat the quality of tea from Meghalaya. We, at Zizira, source our teas directly from the finest estates in Meghalaya such as the ones owned by Bah John. We aim to cut down on middlemen so that tea growers like Bah John can benefit from the sales. Buy tea online in India from Zizira and enjoy exotic tea delivered right to your doorstep. The natural tea aroma and the taste is nothing like you have ever tasted before. You will not only enjoy the best tea in India but feel good knowing that you are supporting small farmers in Meghalaya and boost their sales.