After the cold days and frosty nights of winter, the leaves begin to sprout under the spring sun. The tea gardens lie between 2100 and 2300 metres above sea level on the south facing slopes of the Himalayas. The winters are cold and dry; it only rains in the summer months between July and September.
One advantage of the harsh climate at this altitude is that there are no pests to damage the crops. So there’s no need to use any pesticides in Jiri; the crops flourish without the use of chemicals. However, the cost of an organic audit (around $6000) is too high for the farmers, who still only produce about 600kg of Oolong tea annually. Their profit margin so far is being used to develop the cooperative and gardens and as yet is unable to cover the costs of an organic certification, although this is intended in the near future.
The half-fermented Oolong Tea from Nepal, also known as Brown Tea, is a unique speciality and is only grown in the tea gardens at Jiri. After a short oxidation period of around four to five hours the tea is roasted over an open fire and thus the oxidation process is halted. It is not the typical Oolong found in the gardens of China and Taiwan. Freshly brewed the tea is amber-gold coloured with a fruity sweet, lightly smoky and rounded flavour. It is very similar to a very light black tea, but with typical notes of Oolong.
From pruning the shrubs in autumn, through picking and treating the leaves to the sorting of the best leaves to be sold as export, everything is produced by hand.