In early April, Young Mountain Tea and International Tea Importers (ITI) put together the first ever India Tea Tour – a comprehensive experiential learning trip designed for tea professionals. Taking a deeper dive into the Indian tea industry, this trip would cover everything ranging from tea processing, cultivation, importing, and exporting to the science behind tea’s transformation from leaf into beverage. Accompanied by renowned tea consultant Nigel Melican, participants would be immersed in the Indian tea trade on the Indian soil and meet producers firsthand.
Danielle Hochstetter was one of the participants on this year’s inaugural trip. She is passionate about tea and blazed her own path in the industry by moving to “the birthplace of tea - China” to pursue her interest at origin. After becoming fluent in Chinese her educational pursuits led her to become, what she believes, the first American to receive a Masters in Tea Science from a Chinese institution. She brought that knowledge back to ITI where she worked for several years before embarking on other various tea ventures.
After having studied tea in China, Hochstetter was especially interested in what made the Indian tea industry different. She was eager to sip a steaming chai along the roadside spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and cloves and learn about Indian tea traditions, as well as see how both tea production and tea philosophy differed between countries. When she saw Melican would be the instructor she was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from him and wasted no time to sign-up.
One of the most exciting stops in the trip was Tea Studio – an innovative and new tea production and educational facility in south India Nilgiri mountains. Spearheaded by Indi Khanna and his daughter Muskan, this processing facility uses both Chinese methods and equipment to produce teas that have been adapted for an Indian palate. Here participants were able to roll up their sleeves and get their hands into the leaves, a rare opportunity in an industry where the secrets of tea processing have traditionally been guarded. “One of the biggest values from this trip was to get to see how tea is processed which is smelling it and tasting it… not something you can readily do in America”, Hochstetter said.
When reflecting on the 2 weeks, Hochstetter said her favorite part was having Melican as an instructor. Her second favorite part was learning from the other participants. Desmond Birkbeck, producer of the Kumaon White and Kumaon Black teas carried in Young Mountain Tea’s collection, joined the group for a portion of the trip as the first Global Tea Fellow. This fund was developed to expose remote producers to progressive methods and professional expertise otherwise unavailable in their communities. As the only producer of tea on the trip, Birkbeck also posed questions and shared personal experiences that enhanced learning for the entire group. His unique vantage point only deepened the conversation and widened the breadth of knowledge covered by the course.
At the beginning of the trip, the participants were given a notebook to fill with their newfound knowledge. Hochstetter said her notebook was 3/4th’s of the way filled by the end of the trip. Commenting on the instruction, Hochstetter observed that Melican is “someone who has worked around the world, and he is still patient, knowledgeable, and could simplify the science in ways we could understand.”
Melican has already expressed interested in accompanying the trip next year. If you are interested in reserving a spot or learning more about India Tea Tour 2018, you can email Raj at firstname.lastname@example.org