Today was a mostly tea-less day. I played tourist today starting with a delicious breakfast at the Mayfair Hotel. So much history everywhere I step. The Mayfair has named their library after Tenzing Norgay, the first man to conquer Mount Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary. Upon Norgay’s death, his estate gave the hotel the ice pick used by Norgay on his climb. Priceless.
From the Mayfair the morning continued on to the Yiga Choeling Ghoom Monastery, a Buddhist monastery that was built in 1850. I walked in silence and entered the monastery to have my moment of silence and prayer. I was reminded of the Japanese principal of Ichigo Ichie – one time one place. It is the understanding that every moment and every experience we have in life will never again repeat itself in the same way twice. I stayed in the moment.
The unexpected surprise today was a visit to Campbell House. For those of you that don’t know, Dr Campbell was a civil surgeon stationed in Darjeeling g in 1841. He was the first to successfully plant the Chinese tea varietal in India. It is thanks to Dr Cambell that we enjoy the astounding flavours of Darjeeling tea. It is the unique combination of Chinese muscatal flavours, high altitudes that make the tea struggle (more on that tomorrow) that create such a unique flavour in the teas from this region. I was indeed fortunate enough to pluck a few leaves from that original tea bush that Dr Campbell planted all those years ago.
I suppose in some ways, the day was touched by seeing how two men made such an impression on history – in different ways. The morning visit to the monastery however, reminded me that greatness is everywhere. It is in each and every one of us and may be found in the smallest of gestures. It is in the man in charge of tea making we met at Castleton last night. Whose weathered face had eyes shining with pride at our appreciation of his tea. It is in the smile you give to a stranger allowing them to know that someone saw them today. Sometimes we don’t need to try and make history – most great people don’t. If we spent more time being present, we might find that greatness is everywhere. Ichigo Ichie.
I’ve never been on an electric bull or a bucking horse for that matter, but today I felt like I had been. The difference is, I was in a car. If I thought the roads were treacherous up until now, I was in for a shock today. Bucking and turning and the feeling that it was the car trying to throw me from its seat.
That road led however to a piece of paradise. Glenburn Tea Estate and Boutique Hotel. The most exquisite and lovely piece of paradise amongst tea gardens and mountains. Every day I spend here, every moment I am wrapped by clouds and sky, I feel like I’m in an alter universe.
We walked the factory and nosed some teas. That literally means grabbing a handful of tea leaves that are still in their processing stage and sticking your face deep inside. The aroma you smell is unbelievable and not something I can describe. Something, to be honest, I’ve never taught about because the only way to understand it is to experience it.
Our second stop was one of the finest and oldest estates in Darjeeling – Castleton. This garden produces today and has produced historically some of the most beautiful teas. There is good reason we have awarded it a winning prize for their teas two years running at the North American Tea Conference.
I promised however that I would speak to you about the ethical practises of tea. There are a handful of organizations that are involved in certification programs. Programs that we in the west seem to like so much to see the logos of on packaging we purchase. These include Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Fair Trade and Ethical Tea Partnership. We all agree that everyone should be operating on an ethical platform. I don’t believe anyone would honestly stand up and disagree with that sentiment. I do believe though that we need to seriously think about how we go about that.
Let’s begin for example, by understanding that tea workers on gardens have jobs for lives. Management do not. That means that every tea plucker is guaranteed a job for as long as the estate exists AND their children are guaranteed a job as well. Standing at Glenburn for example, we were told that the grandfathers of many of the pluckers we were seeing were the original planters of Glenburn.
Second, all gardens are held accountable by law under the Planter’s Protection Act. This obligates each estate to provide housing, schooling, pensions and infirmaries for all their workers. I have said many times now that there is a deep sense of obligation estate owners feel for their workers. Whether that is government enforced or not, I suppose doesn’t matter. What I have seen though has felt genuine and sincere.
The third point I want however to make is that if we want workers to be paid fairly and work fairly, then we too must be ethical. We live in a world where we point fingers at developing countries and demand they do x, y and z. And yet we are also a world of bargain discount shoppers. We cannot expect estate owners and managers to pay for the pile of certifications that make us feel morally superior, care for their workers homes, schools and medical care and a the same time continue to drive down prices.
Everyone is entitled to earn a fair wage and we are not extending that same ethical respect to the people that operate these estates. The price of tea should not be dropping. Not when the number of certifications estates pay for have increased. And yet that is what is happening. Why?? Because we in the west continue to demand cheaper everything. If we want ethical then we too must act ethically.
Have an obligation to your fellow man – all of them. But most important , let’s do it ethically and not just pay lip service to the word ‘ethic’. The people I have seen In the past few days are more ethical to their land, their environment, their product and their people than any company I have seen In the west.