Located in the lush forests near Nepal's eastern border is the Kanchanjangha Tea Garden and Research Center (KTE-RC) – a 36 year old tea garden in the shadow of the 3rd highest peak in the Himalayas. This garden was established by Mr. Deepak Prakash Banskota as an enterprising youth. He dove headfirst into the tea business planting out the hillside with tea cuttings despite being met with skepticism from the area's villagers. Over the years Banskota developed his organic methods producing healthy and vigorous tea plants. The community surrounding the garden, once leery of his efforts, became enthused and contributed their lands to the garden's growth.
Mr. Deepak Prakash Banskota Photo credit: Earthbeats
The Kanchanjahgha Tea Estate became the first Nepal tea estate to be certified organic and operates along the lines of co-operative ownership. This means that that the workers in the factory and/or garden are not just employees but have ownership in the company. Moreover, the company provides free housing, daily necessities at a subsidized rate, and free education to all full-time farmers. In the last three years, Banskota's son Nishchal has taken a leadership role at the company making Kanchanjangha teas available in the US. We reached out to Nishchal who was happy to share some stories about his work and family's tea garden.
The Kanchanjahgha Tea Estate. Photo Credit: Nepal Tea LLC
What makes the Kanchaniangha Tea Garden different from most tea gardens in Nepal and India?
One of the most important things that distinguish us from other farms is that it is not owned by a single person, but most of the farmers who work in the garden itself. Also, our company is not a typical tea company but more of a community working together to manufacture a product. Furthermore, our social projects are not just a part of a corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaign that we do, but it is engraved to the very core mission and philosophy of our company and hence we call ourselves a social enterprise.
Another interesting technical aspect that makes our garden special is the way it was first created, out of steep virgin lands, and the natural biodynamic way it operates.
What was it like to grow up on a renowned Nepali tea garden? What was your role there as a youth? Did you ever think you would go into the tea business at that young age?
The interesting thing is I was born on the farm but came to the city when I was less than 2 years old. Hence, I was honestly more uninformed about the precious tea farm as a youth. I regret it of course, but I got involved after middle-school when I first visited the tea farm after 14 years. I still remember a small incident where two older ladies working on the farm came to me to resolve an issue they had. They considered me as a problem solver (as the next generation of leader) when I was just there to visit my birthplace. I always thought that as a sign, but only realized the big vision after 4 years of liberal arts college in the US. They say that you learn more about your place when you are distanced from it and it was exactly what happened to me. It was only after the big earthquake in 2015 that I realized what I wanted to do and it was a catastrophe that shined the lights for me to get into the business. (Photo credit: Nepal Tea LLC)
I had never thought I would get into tea and/or family business as a young person. I always wanted to become a CPA, but oh well. However, I absolutely do not regret not being a CPA cause I love what I am doing right now.
What drew you back into the tea business after so many years after leaving Nepal and studying other things?
It was not until the earthquake in 2015 that I got more involved in the tea business. I was planning a short trip to Nepal after graduation before I stepped into the real world. Graduation was at the horizon but unfortunately, Nepal was hit by a devastating Earthquake and when I made my way home I extended my short trip to nine months. During the stay, I volunteered to help people in the quake-stricken zone. The gratification that I got through helping the needy and sharing their grief made me certain that I truly wanted to do something in the field of business that had social repercussion.
Kanchanjangha Tea Estate had also suffered from the earthquake and I headed to Phidim to help out. There, I saw the woes of the lower level workers of a business estate. A large shipment to Germany from KTE-RC had been stopped due to the political unrest following the earthquake and the farmers were suffering the most as their daily income was being affected. It was then that I decided to utilize the resources at my disposal and attempt to stabilize the lives of these tea farmers.
Photo Credit: Nadia Roy
My first initiative was to open BG Tea Bar, first of its kind in Kathmandu, ensuring a stable income for the farmers as the product was handled within the nation. My sister Samikchya and I ventured out to evolve Baskota Group as the local marketer for KTE teas. This was exactly what I needed and wanted; I was able to lead a group of friends to sell our products, create a brand and quadruple the sales locally. This not only gave me the idea but also the motivation that I can actually lead and start a company. Therefore, I ventured back to the US to start Nepal Tea and create an identity for not just our teas but all Nepali Teas in general. Hence, Nepal Tea was launched in March 2016.
What is your role in the business? What are your current projects, and where do you hope Nepal Tea goes in the future?
I currently handle the international markets especially the USA and Canada for KTE teas through Nepal Tea LLC. Though I love the sales aspect of the company, I am more passionate about the social projects within our enterprise. Recently, I was able to start the first of its kind, Thrift Store, in our factory for the farmers and currently I am fundraising for the small school that we are building for the farmers in the upper garden. Here’s the link if you’d like to read more and support: https://www.ulule.com/keepkidscloseandsafe/
In the future, I want Nepal Tea to be the model company that is able to create a unique and separate identity for Nepali Teas in the world. I am not creating a brand in itself but an identity where people learn where Nepal is, and also know that we produce amazing high-quality teas.
Sounds like your father is very entrepreneurial. What was it that drove him to pursue this line of work? What continues to motivate him today?
Well, this is a very long but very fascinating story. Here’s his full story: https://nepalteallc.com/blogs/sips-and-stories/this-is-the-story-of-our-story-32-years-in-the-making
In short, the whole enterprise was created by my father to rid our poor village out of poverty and now we can proudly say that the vision has been realized.
My father is now 70 years old but still has that drive, energy, and vision to keep on creating things. I honestly do not know where he gets this energy from, but all I know I that he is not going to stop anytime soon. He’s currently busy not just in tea but with a hospital in Kathmandu and also the Maharishi Movement (transcendental meditation) in the country.
Kanchanjangha produces many types of tea. Who develops the tea types? How do you decide what to make?
Photo Credit: Nepal Tea LLC
Nirananda Acharya is the tea master at the factory. He constantly experiments with the varieties of tea that we develop. Furthermore, my sister is in the family business and I try to get more creative with the market to help develop new types of blends and teas too. The leaves in itself decide a lot on what is the best type of tea that can be produced and also the market that we are currently serving helps us decide.
What is your favorite tea and why?
When I was creating the tea bar, I tapped into my creative side to uniquely name all our teas. The tea that sticks to me the most is the Kumari Gold, which is also one of our best sellers. Of course, the flavors and the taste profiles are great, but I am more of a story person and the story behind the name does it for me. The name "Kumari" represents the only form of living God in Nepal and also happens to be the middle name of my mother. She planted the first tea bush in the Tea Estate (which was their backyard back then) in 1980. She has truly been the living God of all the farmers who work for our factory and their children.
Anything else you want to share about your story, your father's story, or the tea company?
We are very pleased and humbled to be collaborating with Young Mountain Tea. I believe we share the same vision and passion of serving the underprivileged producer side of the tea community. I think as young people in the tea industry, we are changing the way tea is produced and also served and I am very glad to be partnering with such a great company to bring about this needed change.