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Meet Assam Tea Pioneer, Avantika Jalan

The Jalan Family & Chota Tingrai Estate

Our Assam teas come from the Jalan family, whose innovative company incorporates tradition into new standards of sustainability and social responsibility. The company started in 1924 in the Dinjoye tea estate, which is one of the largest Assam tea gardens in the Dibrugarh district. It was the first tea garden to be founded by an Indian tea grower, Murleidhor Jalan. Additional tea estates were later added, like Chota Tingrai in the nearby Tisukia district. The company also recently acquired Durrung, which is one of the oldest Assam tea gardens, dating from 1864.

Avantika Jalan

Four generations later, his great-granddaughter Avantika Jalan is one of the company’s directors overseeing field management and is in charge of Mana Organics, a partner company managing the organic tea cultivation and social projects of the company as well as environmental sustainability. Avantika is proud to employ 7 women in the management team (a rare occurrence, especially in India) and over 500 women at the estate and factory. The last time I met her at the World Tea Expo, she infected me with her passion for her teas, especially their new small batch project, but also struck me with her concern for the people she works with. We were chatting about tea fields and when I mentioned how deer are a pest here in the Southeast, she humbled me by describing how elephants can be also be a pest for the tea plants but especially a danger for the workers. Monkeys and goats apparently also cause quite a bit of havoc on the tea estate!

Sustainable Mission

Avantika studied Development Practice in the U.S. and fulfilled her graduate work in Sustainable Communities but couldn’t forget her roots and wanted to bring the family estate to the next level and build it into a model sustainable system that could later help other tea growers in the region achieve sustainability. Her goal is to prove that organic and sustainable systems can work in tea. She succeeded in converting Chota Tingrai into an organic tea estate. Many of her composting and field management processes were incorporated at Dinjoye, so it is now producing natural teas that are chemical residue and pesticide free.

According to Avantika, the process required not only the hard work of conversion but a huge commitment to education. It was important to gain all workers’ support on the estate by explaining the benefits and processes of organic farming. For example, composting is integral to organics but was far from acceptable for many workers on the estate, as some local components like livestock droppings have a huge value for compost but are also considered a sanitation issue. It started with trainings that explained how compost made with a biodynamic method, using plants and animals to develop a specific set of microbes, can be safe and beneficial. And then with persistence, the first results could be seen and the team became convinced of the value of the system and could be enlisted in a team to collect the droppings.

Tea field and tea plant nursery in Chota Tingrai

Avantika wants to work on bringing renewable resources to fulfill the estate’s energy needs as well as developing a rainwater harvesting system. The Assam Valley is a highly fertile tropical jungle that follows the Brahmaputra River receiving a high annual rainfall that has become heavier and more unpredictable due to climate change. For her, sustainability is also about addressing issues like water pollution, soil erosion and contamination that can be caused by the monsoons and flooding, working on drainage system to improve health and sanitation.

The tropical climate also makes the working conditions hard for tea pickers with high temperatures and humidity. Chota Tingrai estate is now home to more than 2200 people and is literally a small town. As part of Avantika’s focus on social welfare projects, efforts have been made to improve the working conditions as well as the health and safety of workers and to strengthen the community. According to press material, the estate operates two elementary schools, a hospital, a library, public utilities and housing. The tea estate wants to provide good livelihood for the workers and their families. Avantika is also sensitive to gender issues, very prevalent in farming communities in India, and wants to empower a strong team of women, whether they be tea pickers or managers.

Clair Thé’s Assam Collection

Avantika is not only passionate about community development but also about tea! The estate offers an array of Assam tea grades but we only carry their single estate, high grade teas.

In the 1980’s the India Tea Research Institute created a new cultivar, P126, and the Jalans planted fields of this cultivar, yielding exceptional tippy teas: our beloved FTGFOP1 (Dinjoye) and TGFOP1 (Chota Tingrai) that have both won awards in the Global Tea Championship.

Our organic Chota Tingrai TGFOP1 offers a full bodied but bright coppery infusion with malty notes of dried fruit that is excellent with a drop of milk.

Our Dinjoye FTGFOP1 is a natural tea with fine leaves with golden tips and produces a full bodied but bright coppery infusion with honey-sweet, malty notes of dried fruit.

We also carry a new small batch tea: the Assam Gold. During the second flush, when premium teas are grown, tea pickers pinch off the tender shoots at the extremes of the shrub. Anything from the third leaf down will introduces a certain coarseness to the tea. The small batch tea contains more buds from the top of the plant, the golden tips (after oxidation), that transform the flavor. The greater proportion of unfurled leaves, the more delicate the flavor. When the season begins, the bud appears every five to seven days. Timing is everything and field managers and pluckers must be in the field, selecting these buds at the right time during the flush. This tea has fine leaves with an abundance of golden tips and produces a full bodied but bright coppery infusion with complex honey-sweet notes of dried fruit and the malty goodness famous for Assam teas.

We’re huge fans of increased women’s management in the tea world and hope the initiatives championed by Avantika can gain a greater foothold. We encourage you to try these beautiful teas for yourself!

All photos are courtesy of Mana Organics.


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