Tea Processing at Innovative Jasbire Tea Factory

All photos by Traverart via Nepal Tea Collective

In six years, the Jasbire Tea Processing Center in Jasbire, Ilam, a village of 150 households less than 20 miles from the main tea hubbub of Eastern Nepal, has established an outsized reputation for innovation.

Sharad Subba, who lives two minutes from his factory, is pumping new life into the tea scene. Subba was born and raised in the village. Ever since he can remember, he says, he’s seen his parents growing and harvesting tea there.

“One of the reasons why I couldn’t pursue education is because of tea,” he says with a smile.

The statement seems odd at first, but after an afternoon of observing him, it’s easy to imagine his commitment to a life of learning about tea. Subba is utterly consumed with tea leaves. It becomes apparent that the proximity between his professional and personal life is not a mere accident but his design.

I am not sure which came first, the house or the factory, but I know that if he could, Subba would live in his factory or have his factory inside his home. He probably doesn’t do it because his daily life would disturb the tea too much.

Jasbire’s teamaker Sharad Subba inspects the withering trough.

A Center of Activity

In April, Jasbire Tea Processing Center was open all day. Due to its unique and favorable micro-climate, Jasbire’s first flush harvest is earlier than its surrounding villages.

The factory door welcomed cool Ilam air to counter the warm air drying the tea leaves. People, especially women, walked in with their blue nylon bags full of one leaf and a bud pluckings. Some arrived on scooters, some walked with their children close behind them. They traveled from every part of Jasbire.

Subba temporarily employs small home tea garden owners to collect the very first of their leaves. Last year, Subba crafted a visually stunning green that he called Farmer’s Green tea.

 

Farmer’s Green Tea

“I couldn’t believe it was green tea,” recalled one tea buyer after he first tasted the tea. There waiting for me inside were tender rolls of white buds and leaves. The hefty trichome coating in the leaves was full of promise,” he said.

Sharad Subba amid the bushes.

To get his fill of the best quality fresh tea leaves, Subba has partnered with almost 80 farmers in the neighborhood. This is one of the many ways Jasbire Tea Processing Center keeps the manufacturing of tea communal and delivers one of the finest teas in Nepal. So the tea made in Subba’s factory truly represented Jasbire, and the quality is adhered to. All the bags of freshly plucked tea leaves that entered the factory while I was there weighed just over five kilograms. One-fifth of the raw material turned into that oh-so-looked-after micro-lot first flush loose leaf tea. I thought that was disappointing, but I didn’t sense the same in the busy tea maker. Subba seemed rather proud of this fact.

Before opening Jasbire Tea Processing Center, Subba worked at other factories. Over twelve years, he was a tea picker, a supervisor, and a tea maker. One of the main reasons he felt the need to establish his tea factory was to have the freedom to make ramro, good tea.

Tea Retailers

  1. Nepal Tea Collective – Farmers Green | $12 | 30 grams | One of the first teas we added to our reserve collection. Though it has a deceiving but beautiful look of a white tea, it is one of our most precious green teas.
  2. Palais des Tea – Jasbire Spring Black | €24 | 100 grams | A Grand Cru which reveals zesty and vegetal notes in a whirlwind of spring notes.
  3. Liverpool Tea WarehouseJasbire Classic Black | £8.95 | 50 grams | The leaf is nicely twisted with tips; the infusion is a beautiful shiny gold in color and the liquor has exquisite notes of cocoa and dark chocolate.

“I’ve always known that good teas are expensive to make. If you want to make good quality tea, you cannot always think of the expenses. It’s not possible. That’s why I wanted to make good tea that could represent Jasbire,” said Subba.

As a factory owner, Subba constantly oscillated from one corner to the next. He skipped over a few steps as if always the tea leaves were calling to him, all the while flowing in and out of conversations with visitors.

He dealt with the fresh teas’ arrival and kept a close eye on what’s been left to dry probably since the previous day or two. The tea in the making was a spring black tea.

His fingers swayed back and forth the withering troughs. He stroked the drying leaves multiple times a day and encouraged us to take a closer look. “The leaves are always changing,” he said.

When the time finally came to switch out the batch, Subba became quiet, composed, and deliberate. His polite demeanor and swift ways made it apparent that no tea must go to waste.

And none did.

The dried leaves were taken to the next level of the factory. The air there was more controlled. A sense of urgency filled the room along with the raw leaf aroma as the owner himself filled the rolling machine. As the imported Chinese machine came to life, someone was standing beside it the whole time. Even though it was the machine operating, it was clear it was not the one in control of the day.

Tea makers eagerly await a specific aroma or, as they say, “for the teas to speak.” The machines are switched off as soon as the leaves emit that particular aroma. The rolled hunks of darker, chunkier leaves are then hauled to the drying machine. There, another dexterous worker awaits the leaves.

This machine has been left on for a couple of hours now. The temperature is just right, hot enough to ensure the teas are only dried and not roasted. The tea makers play local upbeat music despite the loud hum of all the machines running simultaneously.

There is an air of celebration even though everyone is serious. The young tea makers, aged 19 and 20, smile only once in a while as if to remember they’re still young, but other than that, they go about conversing with the tea.

I believe music also played a mathematical role. Not more than two songs go by before the machine starts hauling out the now-dried leaves, and at the right cure, the tea makers haul them up.

The dried leaves are allowed to fall directly into the floor and collected manually into a stained thick fabric right by the machine. The leaves that fall into the floor get enough time to cool. The technique ensures that the leaves don’t continue roasting from retained heat.

Subba waits. He was everywhere at once, missing nothing when it came to those prized treasures of his.

When asked what drives him and the energy behind his motivation, he said, “I feel like if I can make the best tea possible, people not just here but all over the world will taste it. It is possible in this day and age. That’s what keeps me going. If it weren’t for tea, I would be completely lost.”

The day’s hard work produced Jasbire’s Spring white teas.

Tasters describe the flavor of white chocolate and toasted nuts with buttery sweetness. Brewing the tea revealed a colorful consistency of unoxidized olive green tender leaves with tiny bits of oxidation at the bare ends of the pluck.

 

The pluck was one leaf and a bud, revealing steamed vegetables, more precisely that of butternut with a buttery sweet finish. The calming liquor it produced was a creamy yellowish hue and gave an extravagant aroma of floral and sweet fruitiness.

“The brew is beautifully light-bodied smooth liquor with a floral-fruity mix that envelopes the palate right away. The soft sweet butternut notes start emerging as you swirl the liquor and eventually end with nice green grapes and slight citrus undertones,” according to the buyer.

Village of Jasbire

 

The dry leaf had an aroma of white chocolate and toasted nuts. Immediately after opening the small sample pack, the buttery sweetness enveloped the beholder. The medium-sized loosely rolled leaves appeared greenish-white, with prominent silvery tips and some olive green darker leaves.

With patience and a bit of moisture, the tea revealed a colorful consistency of unoxidized olive green tender leaves with tiny bits of oxidation at the bare ends of the pluck.

The tea prominently one leaf and a bud exalted steamed vegetables precisely that of butternut with a buttery sweet finish. The calming liquor it produced was that of a creamy yellowish hue and gave an extravagant aroma of floral and sweet fruitiness.

“The brew is beautifully light-bodied smooth liquor with a floral-fruity mix that envelopes the palate right away. The soft sweet butternut notes start emerging as you swirl the liquor and eventually end with nice green grapes and slight citrus undertones,” said the overseas buyer.

Jasbire Tea Estate

Tasting Notes

Farmer’s Green Tea

Tea Maker: Sharad Subba
Tea Bush: Mix of Tugdah 78 and Goomtee
Process type: Green
Origin: Jasbire, Ilam, Nepal
Altitude: 6,000 feet
Pluck dates: April 10-13, 2022

Dry Leaf
Aroma: Fresh sweet, buttery.
Appearance: Prominent silvery tips covered in dust-like trichomes

Wet Leaf
Aroma: Steamed vegetables with a sweet-apple-like fruity finish
Appearance: Consistency of unoxidized olive green tender leaves. Prominent one leaf and a bud structurally instant

Infusion: Vibrant white liquor with an extravagant mix of floral and sweet fruitiness.

Cup: Instantly sweet sip that teases the palate with steamed vegetable-like traits, especially green beans. There are smooth hints of fresh butter, and the brew gives a round finish of apple-like sweetness.

Jasbire Spring White

Tea Maker: Sharad Subba
Tea Bush: Mix of Tugdah 78 and Goomtee
Process type: White
Origin: Jasbire, Ilam, Nepal
Altitude: 6,000 feet
Pluck dates: April 10-13, 2022

Dry Leaf
Aroma: white chocolate, toasted nuts, buttery sweetness
Appearance: medium-sized, loosely rolled, greenish-white, with prominent silvery tips. Some olive green darker leaves.

Wet Leaf
Aroma: steamed vegetables precisely of butternut with a buttery sweet finish
Appearance: Consistency of unoxidized olive green tender leaves with tiny bits of oxidation at the bare ends of the pluck. Prominent one leaf and a bud structurally instant

Infusion: Creamy yellowish-white vibrant liquor

Cup: Beautifully light-bodied smooth liquor with a floral-fruity mix envelopes the palate immediately. The soft sweet butternut notes start emerging as you swirl the liquor and eventually end with nice green grapes and slight citrus undertones.

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