Hello tea lovers! I am back from my trip to India and boy, what a trip it was! While visiting my family, I planned a visit to Makaibari Tea Estate, which is situated in the Darjeeling hills of northeastern India. Since 1859, Makaibari has produced noteworthy teas while conserving the rainforest in which it is located and reflecting the wonderful soul of the local community.
My parents and sister accompanied me on this adventure to Makaibari, which began with a twenty-hour train ride from New Delhi to New Jalpaiguri and concluded with a scenic, two hour taxi ride that delivered us to the tea factory. While we were prepared to be housed by village families in rustic conditions, we ended up in two recently-built eco-huts that boasted running water and western-style toilets. However, our interest in our accommodations was quickly overshadowed by our fascination with our beautiful surroundings – there were tea bushes everywhere we looked and the clouds seemed to rest on the hills.
After a quick cup of tea, I took off to meet with the Estate Manager, as I was going to spend time every day working and sharing all that happens to tea from plucking to packing. That evening, I was invited to the reporting meeting that takes place at the end of each day. All of the estate supervisors gathered with the manager and in an old fashioned register book, they recorded all that happened that day, how much tea was plucked, and how many pluckers would be needed the next day.
Over the next five days, I walked through the rainforest seeing several varieties of bamboo, birds, deer, herbal plants, and tea, of course. I worked with the village women to pluck tea, rode on a tractor transporting the weighed tea to the factory. I worked through all of the tea processes at the factory, visited the health clinic, the school, the owners’ bungalow, went sightseeing, to the local market, and so much more. The week just flew by! Though my bones hurt, I was aglow from within.
Sadly, shortly after I returned from India, Makaibari was devastated by Cyclone Aila. Winds with torrential rain approached at over 100 miles per hour. It tunneled into the hills, increasing its speed threefold and destroying anything in its path. The carnage ended 11 hours later, completely devastating the community. Fortunately, no lives were lost at Makaibari, but many in the surrounding area were not so fortunate.
The people of Makaibari – the community that I lived with, talked to, ate with, and worked alongside – were just amazing. My heart goes out to them in this difficult time. Despite the challenges that lie ahead for this community, I am confident that Makaibari will rebuild and its people will continue to produce their lovely tea, which truly captures the spirit of the place.
Upon my return from India, I was inspired to experiment in my kitchen with my new tea and a popular Nepalese dish that I enjoyed during my trip – Momo. Momos are dumplings quite like wontons. They are typically made with chicken, lamb, or vegetables, and are steamed and served with a spicy chili sauce. Here is a recipe that I developed upon my return that marries the food and tea wonderfully. Enjoy!
1 packet round wonton wrappers (this is much simpler than making the dough)
1 pound lean ground meat of choice (chicken, lamb, or pork)
2 to 3 green onions, chopped finely
2 Tbsps cilantro, chopped finely
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced ginger
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups of Darjeeling tea brewed for six to eight minutes (green tea also would work)
Place all of the filling ingredients in a bowl. Season, and let sit in the refrigerator for about half an hour. Take a wonton wrapper and put one teaspoon of the filling in the center. Fold to make a crescent and pleat the edges. Make sure that they are well sealed.
Set up your steaming basket, making sure that the base is oiled so that the Momos will not stick to the bottom. Arrange the Momos and steam them for 10 to 12 minutes. In a soup bowl, place four or five Momos and add in the tea. You may garnish with a slice of lemon and a sprig of cilantro.