Lisa traveled to India with friend and fellow boss babe, Elyse Petersen of Tealet in 2017, for Big Heart Tea Co.’s first-ever sourcing trip. Through her whirlwind visit, learning so much every day, Lisa would always come home to stay with one very special family: the family of Yankhu Tamang.
When Lisa arrived in the Darjeeling hills under the thick cloak of night, she couldn’t even see the remnants of the recent Gorkha protests or the cascades of industrial tea estates surrounding her.
“My experience with the tea plant is the opposite of most people’s, because I didn’t see the giant mono-crop fields first. Instead, I woke up in Mirik Bustee surrounded by family-grown tea plants.”
Yankhu Tamang is a force of nature, and for nature. She founded the Darjeeling Small Growers Society to demand better pay for her community, and ensure pesticide-free, biodiverse farming practices in her region. It took 8 years of brave, persistent work against the politics and power of a male-dominated, exploitative industry. Now, the collective of 60 farmers has their own factory, and supplies their own Yanki Tea.
Lisa was swept up by this leader’s energy right away. “Yankhu’s got the go-go-go work mentality, always moving, and with super high expectations. This great sarcastic sense of humor makes her kind of a trickster. And she’s so loved by her community, like a saint — any time you say her name, people praise her.”
Every morning, she made Elyse and Lisa breakfast, proudly saying “Local!” and “Organic!” beside her son Allen. Both take immense pride in their Gorkha heritage and their heirloom tea.
Memories of the first night and day at Yanki Tea are sharp for Lisa. “When I first arrived, I was served a fresh cup of warm, raw milk. After that, every time I showed up at a farm, I was served the freshest, warmest milk.”
Apparently word had gotten around, of course. Hospitality goes beyond being welcoming. Elyse told Lisa that in Gorkha culture, guests are considered divine.
They visited scores of farms that week — mostly tea farms that could grow spices, too.
“The goal was to help the Gorkhas diversify their revenue sources,” Lisa explains. “Is it feasible to ask these farmers to grow turmeric and ginger, since they’re already growing it for their families?” Big Heart Tea Co. didn’t have the expertise to make it happen on that first trip, but it’s still a glimmering possibility.
Lisa pulled together a farm-fresh Cup of Sunshine. Yankhu had laughed at the novelty of a non-powdered, fresh turmeric brew.
Their stay took them through Thanksgiving, and Lisa and Elyse wanted to return the love.
“We made them a Thanksgiving dinner. It was tandoori chicken, because of course there were no turkeys or Western-style ovens. Green bean casserole, mashed potatoes… I tried making a cranberry sauce with pomegranates, but I ended up ruining a pot! And Yankhu made us this soup that was special to her family.”
They set up a big table for everyone in the yard. The family, the factory workers, the farmers, and the guests. Yankhu exclaimed again and again, “This is so unique!”
On Lisa’s last day, Yankhu arrived with another special blessing: single-origin Darjeeling tea from the collective, hand-rolled and cured with her garden’s tulsi. Lisa grows emotional every time she speaks about this. “Because they knew how much I loved tulsi, they made me this gift.”
The tea spoke to Lisa’s heart so deeply, that now, three years and a lot of hard work later, it will be released in a limited edition as Boss Blend. In honor of Yankhu.
Yankhu Tamang, taste-testing Yanki Tea. Photo by Tealet.
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