A Brief History of Tea Growing in Nepal

With an ancient and interesting history, tea is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, with tea drinkers enjoying the aromatic leaves prepared in a number of different ways, both hot and cold. Nepal currently produces more than sixteen million kilograms of tea each year, with around 16,718 hectares devoted to cultivating this much sought after crop. The country’s traditional tea-producing regions are Ilam, Jhapa, Dhankuta, Panchthar and Terhathum, but in the past decade or so other regions have started cultivating tea successfully. These include Solukhumbu, Nuwakot, Kaski, Kavre and Bhojpur.

Some historians suggest that Nepal’s tea industry started when tea bushes were grown from seeds given to the Prime Minister of Nepal, Jung Bahadur Rana, by the Chinese Emperor in the mid-1800s. Others note that the development of the country’s tea industry came about when India was colonized by the British Empire and the East India Company started trading in goods, including tea, produced in India. In 1863 the first tea plantations were established in Darjeeling, India, with hybrids of these tea bushes being sent to Nepal for the establishment of the Ilam Tea Estate in the Ilam district. Located at between 4,500 and 5,000 feet above sea level, Ilam is still a major tea producing region of Nepal. A few years after this, the Soktim Tea Estate was established in Nepal’s Jhapa district. But the tea industry never grew significantly, primarily due to political turmoil under the repressive rule of the Rana Dynasty.

With the shift in Nepal’s politics in the 1950s, the country’s economy became more open and the first privately owned tea plantation, Bhudhakaran Tea Estate, was established in 1959. The Nepal Tea Development Corporation (NTDC) was founded in 1996 to promote and develop the tea industry. Initially tea was harvested and sent to factories in Darjeeling for processing, but in 1978 the first processing factory was set up in Ilam, with another being set up in Sokim a few years later. Small farmers were encouraged to grow tea as a cash crop and the tea industry began to develop into a viable commercial industry. To support this development, the government of Nepal designated five districts as Tea Zones of Nepal – Ilam, Jhapa, Panchthar, Dhankuta and Terhathum. Various other organizations were founded to promote Nepali tea, including the Himalayan Orthodox Tea Producers’ Association and the Nepal Tea Planters’ Association, and by the turn of the century the tea industry in Nepal was contributing significantly to the economy in tea growing areas.

With the advancement of technology and internet marketing, the superb teas of Nepal are being made available to tea drinkers around the world, thereby benefiting communities and small farmer tea growers directly through projects such as the Nepali Tea Traders. So, when you next enjoy a cup of tea, why not make it Nepali tea, and make a difference to a community in Nepal.