Arunachal tea is from the most north-easterly of India’s states
Known as the Land of the Rising Sun, Arunachal Pradesh has the lowest population density of any state in India, having no cities and only around two dozen towns. The state is surrounded by Myanmar to the east, Bhutan to the west and Tibet to the north. The home of Arunachal tea is an area of deep valleys and rising plateaux ascending from the plains of Assam through the sub-Himalayan Siwalik range, to the lesser Himalayas, up to the greater Himalayas. Here the highest peak in the state, Kangto, reaches 23,000 feet (7,000 meters). Tributaries of the mighty Brahmaputra River pass through these valleys accounting for the mineral rich soils which are amongst the richest in India.
Soils in the valleys are rich and well-suited to cultivation. Temperatures are sub-tropical and rainfall follows the monsoon pattern with upwards of 160 inches per annum. About two-thirds of the state is forested, giving way to alpine and sub-alpine vegetation at higher altitudes. Clouded snow-leopards, elephants, musk deer and wild buffalo inhabit the mountains and there is great diversity of fish in the rivers.
The state is the home of many scheduled tribes so clan-like communities and kinship are very much a way of life. Around fifty languages and dialects are spoken throughout Arunachal. Buddhism is the most widely followed faith but Hinduism and Christianity are also practised. Subsistence farming and hunting is fundamental but it is encouraging that forestry has declined due to environmental legislation.
Cultivation of Arunachal tea started around thirty years ago with picked leaves being transported to neighbouring Assam Province for processing. There are now over eleven thousand tea growers in Arunachal Pradesh but only a few are other than small, most being family affairs having around 2-3 acres. The emphasis is upon traditional, high quality orthodox and organic teas which have been pioneered by Rajen Baruah. Processing of the leaf is now being done locally and there is considerable care taken to minimise energy consumption in such remote areas, with the leaf being dried in the sun, rolled, sifted and sorted using hand powered equipment.
In 2018 a Golden Needles tea from Donyi Polo Estate in Arunachal Pradesh commanded a record price for an Assam tea at £445 per pound. It features small buds and golden leaves. In the cup it appears golden and is sweet and rich.
We feature two teas from Arunachal Pradesh: an Arunachal black tea and an Arunachal green tea, both from the Malisha Khonsa garden which have extraordinary complexity and depth of flavour. They are well-worth discovering.