Why are Nepali Teas Unique?

While teas from regions like Nepal are often referred to as Nepali tea, teas from larger and more established tea-producing countries like India are not typically labeled as Indian tea. Indian tea just isn’t a thing. I guess the closest the world has ever come to Indian tea is the grossly inaccurate phenomenon called “chai tea”. Chai just means tea in Hindi, you know?

Tea farmers plucking tea leaves.

So if you stop a moment and ask why Nepali tea is a thing and Indian tea isn’t, you come upon a broader reality within the global tea industry. This peculiarity reflects more than just a linguistic nuance. As with many things, it is more than just language. Tea from anywhere in Nepal is called Nepali tea and this is because of the long historical narratives connected within the tea trade.

The practice of associating Nepali tea exclusively with its country of origin while failing to do the same for teas from other nations reflects a form of oversimplification and perhaps even a lack of recognition of the diversity within the tea-producing regions in Nepal. Saying Nepali tea is just from Nepal is like judging a book by its cover. Sure, it's Nepali tea, but there's so much more to it! 

Just like there are many kinds of apples, from sweet Fujis to tart Granny Smiths, Nepali tea comes in all sorts of flavors and qualities depending on where it's grown in Nepal. Labels like "Nepali tea" are a good start, but they don't tell the whole story. If we had labels that were more specific, like "highland Darjeeling-style black tea from Nepal," then tea lovers would know exactly what they're getting – a delicious and unique cup! This way, people can appreciate the amazing variety of teas from Nepal, not just where they come from.

But if you’re looking for some really good loose leaf tea and they happened to be from Nepal, you’re likely looking at teas that were produced in eastern Nepal. Nestled in the shadow of the mighty Himalayas, this region boasts a rich history and culture. These teas stand out for their unique flavor profiles, and the secret lies in a fascinating interplay between geography and meticulous processing. 

And that’s the reason why Nepali teas are so unique. Let’s delve deeper into it. 

Historically Unique

The historical trajectory of the tea industry in India, dating back to the British colonial era, contributes to this phenomenon. India's tea production has been dominated by large-scale plantations and estates, often associated with British or European ownership and management. In contrast, Nepal's tea industry has emerged more recently and on a smaller scale. With the growth of smallholder tea farming and boutique tea gardens in Nepal, there's been a concerted effort to brand and market Nepali tea as a unique and distinct category. This branding strategy aligns with Nepal's broader economic development goals, promoting the country's teas as premium, specialty products in the global market. 

Nepal Tea Collective has been trying to disassociate Nepali tea's misplaced attachment with its neighbor teas. They’ve been putting the region (with their Tea Tours),  their producers, and their stories (through Tea tasting sessions) in the international spotlight. There is just so much to unlock within the Nepali teas that the association with Darjeeling tea does it a level of injustice. 

The Bedrock of Flavor: The Shiwalik Miracle

The foundation of this distinctness lies beneath the lush tea plantations - the Shiwalik rock formation. The Siwalik Group, also known as the Siwalik Range or Siwalik Hills, is a geological formation and mountain range located in South Asia. It is part of the outer foothills of the Himalayas and stretches across parts of Nepal, India, Bhutan, and Pakistan. The Siwalik Group is characterized by its relatively low elevation compared to the main Himalayan range, with peaks typically ranging from 600 to 1,500 meters (2,000 to 5,000 feet) above sea level.

A man plucking tea leaves from the tea farm.


Geologically, the Siwalik Group is composed of sedimentary rocks, including sandstone, shale, and conglomerates These ancient rock beds, formed millions of years ago from the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates, hold the key to the character of Nepali tea. 

The Shiwaliks are rich in minerals like mica, calcium, and magnesium. As these rocks erode over time, they release these minerals into the soil, creating a unique nutrient profile. This mineral-rich soil provides the perfect environment for tea bushes to thrive, influencing the chemical makeup of the tea leaves. 

Beyond Minerals: The Art of Processing

A tea being processed by skilled professionals.

While the Shiwaliks provide the foundation, the art of processing elevates Nepali tea to new heights. Nepali tea producers are known for their meticulous methods, focusing on minimal intervention to preserve the inherent qualities of the leaves. Since the Nepali tea industry is still young and full of potential, Nepali tea makers don’t have the pressure to follow strict procedures and have the liberty to actually listen to the tea leaves and their flavors.

They aren’t concerned with meeting market demand. Nepali tea makers understand the specialty of their leaves so they know the product makes the demand and not the other way around. The highest and best value tea isn't produced from huge manufacturing factories but from a smaller independent care from individual tea makers following their passion. Check out Nepal Tea Collective’s profile on their tea makers to understand exactly where and how the teas are made. 

Experience the Uniqueness

Nepali tea offers a unique sensory adventure. From the briskness of black teas to the grassy notes of greens, each cup is a testament to the interplay of nature's bounty and human expertise. So, the next time you sip a cup of Nepali tea, take a moment to appreciate the journey it has taken, from the ancient Shiwaliks to foothills of the Himalayas to the tea makers’ love and care to finally  your cup. 

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