Unlike the usual tea production, High Mountain goes through withering, rolling and drying with specialised equipment designed to retain the organic compounds that give tea its essence.
“You change the machine, you change the taste. Our teas have become different because of the way we pick them, process them, and the equipment,” explains Gyawali who started Jun Chiyabari with brother Bachan Gyawali after dabbling in the tourism and electronic export sectors.
Jun Chiyabari today produces up to 20 different types of tea, each with its own distinctive flavour. It is exported to the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe where connoisseurs compare the teas to the sophistication of fine wines. The popularity of High Mountains s also growing amongst Nepal’s urbanites, where it is often called ‘chiampagne’.
“If you want to sustain a market like Japan, mediocrity will not sell, you need perfection. Japanese buyers tell us our tea is unlike anything they have tasted from South Asia,” says Gyawali proudly.
Indeed, High Mountain is described in Japanese as having the ‘flavour of the mist of the mountains’ — an accolade of the highest order.
Speciality tea production is not without challenges. Nepal has not even scratched the surface of the potential in the domestic and world market. There are no studies into cultivars suitable for Nepal’s topography. Growers have to rely on trial and error methods.
This means raw material is limited. With additional challenges posed by climate breakdown, growers are having to cope with increased demand and maintaining a delicate balance between quality and quantity.
“We already knew global heating was going to impact us, so the selection of plantation sites was important. We couldn’t do anything about rising average temperatures and precipitation patterns, but we could, and did, go higher up the mountains,” says Gyawali.
The pandemic has also affected Nepal’s tea industry, but enthusiasts have discovered the health benefits of High Mountain during this time and boosted online sales. More and more growers are now interested in this niche market.
Jun Chiyabari’s motto has remained the same over the years, to grow unique leaves to put Nepal on the world tea map. If the praise it has received internationally (see above) so far is anything to go by, it has already achieved this.