Makaibari Tea Estate Visit
Today’s day will be the most memorable day in my life. Why? An honorable meeting with the most reputed Tea Guru I have ever known, Mr. Rajah Banerjee of Makaibari Tea Estate, was possible. I had heard hundreds of stories about him and his tea estate particularly his love for animals, environment and above all his people.
Upon hearing so many stories, I had taken a ‘particular snapshot’ of him in my mind and was eagerly waiting to synchronize as soon as I set my foot on Makaibari’s premises. Although, I had gone there to procure some organic Makaibari tea for my selected clients, I found out that I was inclined more towards meeting him than procuring the teas. I guess, the love for tea which Mr. Banerjee shares with the world made my thoughts draw an arrow of urgency towards Mr. Banerjee’s presence.
I got down and entered the Makaibari Tea Estate gate – Guess what? “Excuse me Sir, what work do you have here? Whom do you want to meet?” the guard standing on the gate asked. I guess those were necessary questions to be asked to anyone entering inside and I totally agree, after all its one of the most reputed tea estates of the world. As Mr. Bannerjee and I were having email sessions from beforehand, I was called inside instantly without any hesitation.
The Makaibari Tea Estate Guru meet up
The first impression of my imprinted thoughts synchronized well regarding the outfit he was wearing – an essence of the British Raj reflected with his Khaki outfit, and I guess that is how it must have felt when anyone was meeting a ‘Bara Sahib’ (or manager/owner of a tea estate) in the olden days. He signaled me to take a seat and requested me to wait for sometime as he was attending to his official work with one of his office staff. After a couple of moments, he was free to chat with me.
Well, I was literally hesitant to speak up anything, thinking that I might speak something which may prove to be blatant and inappropriate. Well, the silence was broken when the Tea Guru handed me his visiting card, shook hands with me and asked me with a smiling and welcoming face – “So young man, it’s a pleasure to meet you, please tell me your story?” The down to earth behavior from the other side evaporated my hesitant feeling from every pore of my body into thin air. I started my part and after a while we were laughing like little kids engrossed in our own world of friendship. Yes, we were friends in no time and I assume we could understand each other maybe through the common platform we shared – “Our Love for Tea”.
By the time we finished our chat session for about an hour (yes, with heavenly amber sips in between), I could devise my brain instruments to record it and synchronize with my previous imagery. I found him to be a person, who is capable of walking hand-in-hand with his tea laborers, a person who respects life, believes in equality and above all a person who understands the importance of respecting other’s feelings. A person you would dream to meet.
Tea tasting session at Makaibari Tea Estate
Now it was time for our little tea tasting session of Makaibari Tea known as Makaibari Silver Tips I intended to buy. Oh Boy! A heavenly brew which opened all of my sensory gates. The Tea Guru gave me a good number of tips on tea tasting and guess what; it was of great help and a new discovery when done following his guidelines. What he says about tea tasting –
Tea tasting is ABSTRACT, learn to associate with known flavors you know about and you will get your tea’s divine description.
This tip was solely associated with flavors present in tea. However there are numerous other factors as well which determine the quality of a good tea. This needs a totally different write-up which I will do in due course of time.
The tea tasting session was over and after spending more than two hours with him, I didn’t want to waste anymore of Mr. Banerjee’s time. Some Japanese group was waiting for his presence downstairs and it was now time for me to pay and head for home.
A Dead Man standing Live at Makaibari Tea Estate
My Wife Made Me Look Stupid! (quoted with her permission):
In the morning when I headed for Makaibari, I had told my wife to get the money in the bag and leave it on the bed. I got my digital camera, pushed it inside my bag and bid goodbye. I had about One Lac INR and now I was in Makaibari ready to pay the required amount to the man concerned. First dealings are always better to be done in cash or with a mode of payment which is instant in nature in order to keep the goodwill going. I had kept the bag inside Mr. Banerjee’s office which had an open door leading to the tasting room and a long corridor which could be traversed by any of his staff members. I opened the bag and Boom! A thunder exploded right on my head – No money in the bag!! You can well guess the bad soup I was in. I informed Mr. Banerjee about the situation and he too was utterly confused. All of the staff members were confused and don’t ask about me – you can guess – A Dead Man standing live!
My brains could not work and from a corner, one of the staff members suggested me – “why don’t you try and call home, you might have left it at home” – Not in a million. I was sure that my wife had put the money inside the bag otherwise she wouldn’t have placed the bag on the bed as I had directed her to do. I was dialing and at the very moment my wife called – “Darling, I want to tell you one thing, but before I say, promise me you won’t get angry”; I was literally irritated and she said, “I am sorry, but I put the money in the wrong bag” – A mixed feeling of joy and anger ran through my veins. The news brought a sigh of relief to all of the staff members and Mr. Banerjee too couldn’t express his feelings properly, but he was calm and told me that mistakes do happen and there was nothing to worry about.
After a while everything was normal and the memory was cherished instantly when the accountant of Makaibari Tea Estate and myself sat laughing and chatting sipping in the ethereal silver tips.
The Makaibari Silver Tips got loaded on my vehicle and I bid Mr. Banerjee goodbye – “Benoy keep dropping down to Makaibari” with a similing face that had initially welcomed me. I headed home with a tremendous feeling of joy, happiness and yes of course with a yearning to scold my wife, but that didn’t happen – the story itself proved so funny that I forgot everything and we were busy brewing the new Makaibari Silver Tips.
To conclude, the words of Dalle (Mr. Banerjee’s personal tea maker assistant) still is reverberating in my ears “Sir, whatever happens, it happens for good and maybe it was God’s wish which prevented you from really losing your money through other means”. Guess Dalle is right!
Or is it that God wanted the whole Makaibari Tea family to remember the incident forever. Maybe it is! Even if Mr. Banerjee forget’s me in the future, I can pull in the story anytime I meet him and bring back the hilarious past. 🙂
Some additional information about Makaibari Tea Estate (2016 update):
Now Makaibari Tea Estate has shifted hands a bit when Luxmi Tea acquired a major stake of the company in 2014. Mr. Rajah Banerjee continues to be the Chairman and looks after the holistic practices. We thank him for all the good work he has done for Darjeeling, its people and Tea, and wish him great life entwined with tea.
The whole of Makaibari Tea Estate holds seven villages inside its area namely with 1500+ people living. The seven villages of Makaibari go by their own local Indian Nepalese names such as “Kodobari” (meaning Millet fields or garden), “Fulbari” (meaning garden of flowers), “Kalopani” (meaning black waters where Kalo means black and pani means water), Cheptey (meaning flat like shape), Thapathali (meaning a Thapa village, Thapa is a cast or surname like mine. Guess Makaibari has my ancestors there too. It only means that Thapas are entwined with Darjeeling Tea 🙂 ), Chungey (yet to be known, but a similar name depicts a local game) and Makaibari (meaning corn fields). So you can guess that Makaibari (makai means corn and bari means field or garden in the local dialect) or the corn fields got converted into tea plantation.
Makaibari Tea Estate claims to be the first to set up its tea factory in the world (it seems quite a forerunner in the field of tea), done by the founder Mr. G. C. Banerjee in 1859. Since 1970, Mr. Swaraj Banerjee aka Rajah started looking after Makaibari. He is the main man who brought a great and healthy change to Makaibari. The concept of organic tea farming in Darjeeling was perceived by him and thus managed to get Makaibari Tea Estates organically certified in the year 1988 which also happens to be the first organic certificate issued to Tea garden.
It retains almost 70% of it’s forest reserve. Makaibari follows a mulching system through a six tier permaculture, managing soil for both tea and environment. Besides tea, its rich in its flora and fauna, making a visitor’s experience a real delight.
Makaibari Tea Estate is among the few Darjeeling Tea gardens who could manage and fetch a price of USD 1,850 per kilo for the Makaibari Silver Tips Imperial which is supposed to be picked during a full moon night by 500 women tea pickers. Hope many such batches come out from Makaibari Tea Estate in the years to come.
This is the second tea blog post I found from my archives. This was lost from us. It’s one of my first visits to Makaibari Tea Estate and depicts the period when we had initially started trading or selling Darjeeling Teas online. Reflecting back, I can say to you that we didn’t start yesterday, this was written way back in 2006 and it narrates a personal experience of Makaibari Tea Estate and the encounter with the ever green and highly resourceful person, a tea guru, Mr. Swaraj Banerjee better known as “Rajah Banerjee” where “Rajah” depicts king here. His fellow Makaibari Tea Estate family see him as a king for all things he has been unto for their well being.
I am personally a fan of some of their Darjeeling Teas like Makaibari Silver Tips, Makaibari Silver Tips Imperial etc. They have a Makaibari home stay program where a visitor can stay in a tea worker’s home and experience life in a tea garden first hand. Anyway, lets head off to the actual tea story which I experienced at Makaibari.