Darjeeling in Chiang Mai

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The Chiang Mai province is home to – besides the famous city – verdoyant hills, the Ping river plains, elephant sanctuaries, and coffee plantations. Little did I know, to a tea estate as well. To be fair, the tea tree – Camellia Assamica in this case – is an aboriginal plant that have been striving here for millenias. But aside some very small gardens where farmers pick from a handfull of wild specimens, or maybe a couple rows of clones, I haven’t seen anything ressembling a Japanese plantation, or a British style garden. Well, that was until my visit to Araksa tea garden.

Raju welcomed me in a beautiful building, open to the gardens all around, behind a table where the teas were aligned in small glass teapots, ready to taste. His name, his unbridled eyes behind his face mask, and then his accent: no doubt, Raju is from India. We exchanged a couple of words in Hindi, to his surprise, and while getting busy with tea tasting, he told me his story, intertwined with the story of this garden.

Raju is from Darjeeling, and worked there as an expert tea producer for many years. Meaning, he is in charge of organising and timing the leafs picking, processing, and the plants maintenance. For making tea is a multidisciplinary art.

One day a Thai couple showed up at his workplace, and offered him a deal. “We have an estate” they said, “we can give you full responsibility of it” they said.

Raju thought about the offer, for he had never planned leaving Darjeeling before. But then, the challenge got the better of him. He came to visit the place and said: “give me 10 years, and I’ll give you 100 years”. Some sparks of pride lit up in his eyes when he explained that sentence to me. “In ten years I can trim this garden, plant more trees, build a proper factory, and the whole thing can run on autopilot for one hundred years!”

It’s been 6 years Raju accepted the challenge, and the process is well underway. I have to say Araksa is the prettiest tea garden I have seen in Thailand. Huge trees naturally shade the plantation, birds sing and fly all around, the tea bushes have thick troncs and are trimmed at chest level, and steep hills with orange orchards surround the property.

When Raju first arrived, the tea trees were left to themselves, and were up to 6 meters high. The amount of leafs one could harvest at that time was minimal, and was at the cost of great efforts. Raju trimmed them all (almost all, he kept a small portion of the garden as it was), and gave the garden a Darjeeling look. Nice even table top shape trees, clear alleys to circulate between rows, and a pristine clean factory in the centre. However, conservation is also crutial in his approach (Araksa means to preserve in Sanskrit) so the whole garden is an ecosystem, with biodiversity preserved so that nature’s cycles work undisturbed. Birds being happy with the canopy of frangipane trees eat the insects that other plantations use chemicals to repel, and the whole place is a permaculture like, 100% organic, natural environment.

Amongst the garden’s production: a black tea with half broken leaves, english breackfast style. A black tea, using small young leaves, not fully oxydised, gently rolled… you guessed it, a Darjeeling style “black” tea. Two white teas that are absolutly magnifiscient and deserve a post on their own. A roasted green tea, thai style, and a variety of aromatised teas, including a glorious Masala Chai.

Walking through the plantation, Raju pointed at me some tiny tea plants, in between rows of tall grass. “These are my babies from Darjeeling” he said proudly. “They struggle a bit in the thai terroir, but they will adapt”. “Just like their ancestors adapted when they were brought from China to Darjeeling” I added.

A little more than one hour from Chiang Mai, and I was roaming around in Darjeeling. This country doesn’t stop to impress me, and the tea world here feels more and more like a hidden gem.

You can now try their Darjeeling like black tea, just added to the shop.

Get tea here

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