As I sit in my office in Canberra, sipping on a light, clean tasting green tea with just a hint of astringency in the background and a herby aftertaste; I am swept back to a bumpy track, riding in a 4WD with my friend Ashish and my eldest son James. It’s a bone jarring journey but eventually we turn right off the track and in to a traditional Assamese farm yard. As we arrive a small group led by an older man, approach and in traditional style welcome us with a gamosa ( a traditional Assam scarf) which are wrapped around our necks.
After our introductions to Mr. Someswar Phukan – the older gentleman – his sons and his grandson, who it turns out the tea garden is named after, we are escorted in to their family house, where we sit and are given an explanation of the family tea garden and how Mr. Phukan has nurtured this small artisan tea business.
Then, from behind a thick curtain, Mr. Phukan’s daughter-in-law appears with his pride and joy; a steaming pot of his own Assam green tea. She puts it down and the men pour the tea into small cups, enough for all of us. We sit and sip; the pale straw coloured brew, which I am pleasantly surprised is delicate, yet flavor-some. Mr. Phukan’s face lights up as he can see we are enjoying his lifetime’s achievement, his Yashraj green tea. The curtain peels back once more and we are presented with,- what seems to be small, warm, sweet rice cakes, which have been hand patted and griddled; beautiful. Tea and cake, what more could I want for.
We sit and chat, and even though every comment had to be translated, the conversation flowed, as it does when tea and cake are involved. Mr. Phukan explained and emphasized his desire to create an organic product, not using chemical fertilizers or pesticides but opting for the use of traditional methods of farming. At this point he wanted to show us and explain how he makes his fertilizer with cow dung, local herbs and the natural action of worms and water. When asked, he wasn’t giving his secret herbal mixes away.
We walk around the small and basic tea factory, where Mr. Phukan demonstrates and explains how all the tea is hand rolled on woven trays; for processing. The leaves are then baked and steamed in a very simple looking machine, then graded and completed with a final bake in a small kiln like oven.
We then visit their family vegetable patch, where Mr. Phukan is again proud to let us know that no; chemicals are used on their veggies. The trimmings from the vegetables are used in Mr. Phukan’s composting pits as part of his natural fertilizer production.
What an experience; and one I’m proud to have shared with my friend Ashish and my son James. This family may work hard on their small family tea business, but what a wonderful lifestyle. Mr. Phukan has certainly put the hard yakka in for his family and is today able to offer them good healthy food, a wonderful home, and a growing wholesome tea business. What a legacy to leave. I would like to thank Mr. Phukan and his family for their hospitality, for his persistence and belief in producing a quality, chemical-free; green tea in the lush countryside of Assam.