There's no denying that the two most admired things of the Khasi tribe, in Meghalaya, are Kwai (Betel Nuts) & Ja Stem (Turmeric Flavoured Rice). But very few people know that our secret love in Meghalaya is tea. And our tea isn't the most popular, Desi Doodhwali Chai, but a rare, exquisite Red Tea without milk, - or "Shasaw" as it's known in Meghalaya.
Are you wondering where Meghalaya is and why we are referring to it? It is one of the 8 states that constitute the northeast part of India and is part of one of the 4 biodiversity hotspots of India. Thanks to this, the land is pristine and home to very many nutrition-rich plants, herbs and spices.
Zizira is a food products company operating from Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya. It is a pioneering conscious ecommerce company in the northeast India. All the products we sell are based on produce that we procure directly from the farmers.
Zizira is working to help the farmers realize the potential of the land and improve their livelihood of the farmers we work with. Here is why we do what we do.
We are in touch with tea growing farmers of Meghalaya too.
If you have ever been to Meghalaya, you'll probably recall people sipping their red tea almost throughout the day. But, Shasaw isn't just a refreshing taste or the much needed warmth in winters. Shasaw is the bond between friends, families, and communities.
Shasaw is also Meghalaya's hospitality at its finest. Shasaw and kwai are the first things you'll be offered when you visit any local Khasi family. Shasaw is the coming together of Meghalaya's culture and traditions.
Here's the thing. Our love for tea goes well beyond Shasaw. Though very few people are aware, Meghalaya is one of the tea producing states of India and produces some of India's best quality tea. You'll find numerous tea gardens spread across the state.
However, the tragedy is that most tea produced in the state is shipped to nearby, well-known tea producing locations and sold off as "Assam" or "Darjeeling" tea in the market. Even though many Meghalaya tea brands are gaining grounds, most in India are still unaware of that Meghalaya is one of the tea producing states of India.
If you're a tea lover who looks for quality, there's a tea waiting to be discovered. Yes, it is time to look for Meghalaya tea! You must be wondering, why should I care about Meghalaya tea? Or What's the difference?
Let's find that out.
What Makes Meghalaya Tea Special?
Meghalaya's landscape, altitude, and climatic condition makes it a perfect place to produce high-quality highland tea and so, is one of the best tea producing states of India.
- Meghalaya tea grows in elevations of over 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level. Most high-quality teas are cultivated at this or above this elevation. Excellent quality highland tea grows in the higher altitude of Meghalaya of 3000 to 5,500 feet.
- These tea plantations areas are on virgin, pristine land. The farmers of Meghalaya still practiced traditional methods of farming. They do not use pesticides in their land. Many of the tea gardens in Meghalaya are also organic certified.
- The age of the tea plant is younger compared to Assam or Darjeeling, which is also one of the reasons for its superior quality.
- Tea gardens in Meghalaya are smaller compared to Assam or West Bengal. The tea processing unit is set up in a very short distance from the tea garden. This makes it possible to process high quality green tea. The major challenge with big tea estates is that from the time the tea leaves are plucked and reached the processing unit, the tea leaves have already oxidized, and this degrades the quality of the green tea.
You will agree that Meghalaya is one of the little-known tea producing states of India. So, the next time you want high quality green tea, you know what to look for.
Because of its high elevation, Meghalaya produces the best Orthodox tea in India.
What Is Orthodox Tea?
Orthodox tea refers to either hand-processed tea or tea that is rolled with machinery in a manner that mimics hand-rolling. Most specialty tea is made with orthodox production methods. All whole-leaf tea is made with orthodox production methods.
You might also notice these teas under the label 'handmade tea,' 'hand-processed tea,' or 'rolled tea.'
Meghalaya mainly produces four types of Black tea, Green tea, Oolong tea, and White tea. The Darjeeling variety of tea that grows in Sohrynkham, Meghalaya is reported to be better in terms of quality and taste than the original Darjeeling tea.
History Of Tea Plantation In Meghalaya:
Tea Plantation in Meghalaya was introduced by the British. In the 19th Century, East India Company sent a prospecting team to explore the potential of tea cultivation in the region. The result that came out was favorable.
However, no action was taken at that time. It was only in 1977, that experimental gardens were set up for the tea transplantation in various parts of Meghalaya -in Ri Bhoi District, in Tebronggre, in the West Garo Hills District; and in Riangdo, in the West Khasi Hills.
The experiment was fruitful – Meghalaya could produce excellent quality tea! There is an enormous potential for tea plantation in Meghalaya. From then on, the Government of Meghalaya started to make this tea venture BIG. Many other private entrepreneurs were encouraged to up Tea Plantation.
Because of its superior quality, rich and fragrant aroma and powerful liquor, Meghalaya tea is finding customers as far as the UK, Europe, and Australia. (Source)
Tea Brands in Meghalaya:
Now that you have known a brief history of Meghalaya tea, you must be wondering where do I buy Meghalaya tea?
Passionate entrepreneurs, along with the help of Government schemes, have helped established many tea startups in the state making it known widely as one of the tea producing states of India. . This has changed the lives of many farmers, entrepreneurs, and the community as a whole. It has opened up new opportunities and hopes that didn't seem to exist before. The best part is many customers from all over the world, who have visited these tea gardens and tasted Meghalaya tea, do not want to go back to any other tea!
Here are some of the top tea brands from the hills of Meghalaya.
Meg Tea: Meghalaya agriculture department launched Meg Tea in the year 2014. Their tea is organic certified, and the farm is located in at Umsning and Upper Shillong. Meg Tea is one of the highest suppliers of black tea, green tea, and Oolong tea from Meghalaya.
- Durama Tea: This tea is grown by the West Garo Hills Tea Farmers Federation whose tea garden is at Tebronggre, in Garo Hills. It was established in the year 1999. They are organic certified and have an outlet at Rongram, Garo Hills, Meghalaya. Durama tea is mostly sold only in the local market.
Anderson tea: This brand was started in 2009, they have tea gardens in Umsning, Lailad, Umshohphria, Umtyngar, and Umran Dairy, all situated in Ri Bhoi district, Meghalaya. Anderson produces black tea which is a blend of CTC and orthodox (Darjeeling) teas. Anderson has one of the best tea in Meghalaya and is certified organic.
- Arsla Tea: Arsla, which means 'two leaves' in Khasi local language was established in March 2013. The tea factory is at Umsning, in Ri Bhoi district of Meghalaya. This venture was started by the Arsla Organic Tea Growers and Producers Cooperative Society. They produce organic certified Green, Black, and Oolong tea.
Urlong Tea: Urlong, which means 'Dreams come true' in local Khasi language is another successful launch by the Integrated Village Co-operative Society at Mawlyngot village. Previously known for alcoholism and rice-millet liquor, the farmers of Mawlyngot village got together to grow tea which they never knew could be produced on a large scale. Tea plantation has provided livelihood and hopes to their families and the entire village. Now, they are not only the producers of high-quality green, white, and orthodox black tea in the state, but they have also started tea tourism. If you love teas and want to brew your own, you can visit this beautiful picturesque village.
- Denmar Tea: Denmar tea is considered to produce the best green tea in Meghalaya. They also sell black tea. The teas have a rich flavor, color and aroma, and 100% organic certified. The tea garden is located in the outskirts of Shillong. You can buy the tea here.
Lakyrsiew Tea: Lakyrsiew, which means 'The awakening' in local Khasi language is one of the beautiful tea gardens situated near Umiam lake, Shillong, Meghalaya. The name signifies the revival of tea plantation in Meghalaya after the British discovered its potential in the state. They grow Darjeeling tea and Chinese tea which is 100% organic certified.
- Sharawn Tea: Sharawn Tea is grown in the beautiful Camellia Tea Estate in Sohrynkham, Meghalaya. This tea estate is owned by an entrepreneur, Bah John Marbaniang, who name the tea after his children. In 1993, after his service at Warren Tea Estate in Assam, Bah John discovered few Chinese tea varieties that grow in his land. He started growing and propagating the tea plants, and after four years, he harvested and sent his tea leaves for testing to Kolkata. Upon discovering that his tea is one of the best tea, there is no looking back for Bah Johnson. He pursued his tea journey that paid him rich dividends for years to come. Bah John sells black, green and white tea not just in the local market but also exports it to Australia. I love Sharawn green tea. The authentic, fresh aroma of the tea is evident with every sip. You can buy the tea here.
Future of Tea in Meghalaya
There is a growing demand for teas in India. Many customers are becoming more aware and obsessed with quality.
With the growing number of tea startups in India, one advantage that Meghalaya has tea is the traceability of the source. The other advantage is the smaller tea estates which makes it possible for the growing, processing, and packaging of the teas done at the same place. This plays a significant role in maintaining the quality of the teas.
The challenge though is that more skilled labor and entrepreneurial mindset is required to be able to meet the demands. If these are met, there is nothing that can stop Meghalaya to be one of the largest and best producers of tea in India.
I hope you now know a bit more about Meghalaya Teas. The next time you visit Meghalaya or Shillong or if you have not tried Meghalaya tea before, do ask for it or visit the nearest tea garden.
If you are someone who already tried Meghalaya tea before, do share with me your favorite tea brand by dropping your comment below.