Just in time for colder weather, a premium tea company is launching a cool program that any tea lover should be interested in. From now through the end of October, Rare Tea Company is offering customers the opportunity to pre-buy an autumn harvest for a “Special Himalayan Harvest” black tea—all the while supporting a family-run organic tea garden in Nepal.
Rare Tea Company, which operates through direct trade and buys from farmers at prices the farmers set—as opposed to buying from brokers, commodity markets, or middle-men—counts Claridge’s in London, Noma in Copenhagen, and Benu in San Francisco among its customers. However, Rare Tea Company has lost 70 percent of its business due to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting devastation that has rippled across the hospitality industry, founder and CEO Henrietta Lovell told Food & Wine. Much of the demand for high-end tea has fallen away, she said.
“We want to buy as much as we can from these farms because they really need it, but the problem is not supply, it’s demand,” she said over FaceTime.
A handful of large companies supply the majority of tea sold in Europe and North America, and most of the communities supplying that tea live in poverty. Programs like this give consumers a chance to shop ethically, with their money going more directly to the farmer.
For the past decade, the company has been working with Jun Chiyabari, described by Rare Tea Company as “one of the best tea gardens in the world.” With business down, Rare Tea Company didn’t have the funds or demand to purchase an autumn harvest that Jun Chiyabari needed to sell. That’s where the Special Himalayan Harvest tea comes in. After talking with the team at the tea garden, Lovell came up with the idea to offer customers a chance to pre-buy it through Rare Tea Company.
Here’s how it works: Go to Rare Tea Company’s website and select how much tea you’d like to pre-order. The Special Himalayan Harvest is available in three quantities: 300 grams (£110, or $143.49 USD), 500 grams (£185, or $241.32), and one kilogram (£365, or $476.12). Lovell compares the pre-purchasing process to buying wine en primeur—aka buying wine before it’s been bottled, while it’s still in the barrel. She says that every time a purchase is made, Rare Tea Company will tell Jun Chiyabari, who will produce that amount. Only producing what is pre-ordered will ensure the tea garden isn’t left with excess product to sell.
“It’s what we can do together as a community, as a tea-loving community, to support a farm and get them through,” she said.
The tea itself hasn’t been picked and crafted yet—the top image above is described as a “placeholder” by the website—but Lovell described it as “highly aromatic” and “fruity with deep chocolate notes” in a press release. Like wine, the tea’s taste is influenced by its terroir and growing conditions, how and when it is picked, and more. The autumn harvest in particular is “after the rains,” she says, and compared to the spring teas, it has flavors that are “sort of deeper and richer.” On Jun Chiyabari’s website, a section describing the terroir of its teas reads “the effect of the altitude, bright and warm sunny days punctuated by cool mountain mists and chilly nights is that the tea is invariably light and aromatic; and depending on the variety or cultivar and processing, flowery, fruity, grassy or nutty.”
If you’d like to pre-order some tea, the deadline is October 31. Rare Tea Company will handle the shipping, and you can expect delivery in December in time for the holidays. (The tea can be shipped worldwide, and there won’t be a fee, either.) Since the tea comes with its own storage tin, personalized gift message, and a card explaining the tea’s story, it would be a fitting present for any tea-lovers in your life (or, keep it for yourself). The kilo of tea, per the site, will yield 400 pots—“at least 800 cups.”
Rare Tea Company also carries a few other teas from Jun Chiyabari, including the Nepalese Himalayan Spring Green Tea, which has tasting notes described as “tropical fruit notes of mango, cooked pineapple and lychee, yet low in acidity.” So even if you miss out on this harvest, you can find plenty of other varieties to fill your mug this year.
“The only downside of this is once you taste tea this good, there’s no going back,” Lovell said. “Once you’ve had really beautiful tea like this Nepalese tea, you’re ruined, you’re ruined for the tea bag ever again.”