One of the interesting developments after our Leaf Tea Bar was selected by CNN as one of the top 11 tea houses in the world was receiving queries from many tea producers around the world. They wanted to know if we would feature their fine teas at our shop. One such missive came from an unexpected place – Colombia.
Now, I had once read about Mrs Michelle Obama serving Argentinian tea at the White House and drank some tea from Gautemala myself. The latter did not not compel me enough to seek further for more of it, that is until this mail from Colombia.
Santiago Gonzalez from Bitaco Tea Company wrote to me about a place in the west Andes where tea was grown high up at elevations of around 2000 m! This place is around 35 miles north of the city Cali, in an area known as La Cumbre. I tracked down the location on Google Maps and pulled up many images of lush and wet tropical highlands - looked like a place where Darjeeling met Assam. The pictures I was sent of the tea garden itself were stunning with its wild and thick vegetation cloaked in “fog forests.”
I was amazed when I learned that the plantation had been producing tea for nearly 55 years. For the past 30 years it had been only producing CTC-grade tea. In this form, the leaf is cut and curled into small granules and is sold inexpensive in the mass market. However, in 2013 they decided to adopt orthodox method of production where the leaf is left whole. They took help from a reputed tea company in Darjeeling.
When I finally received the samples and tried the teas I was indeed thrilled. The quality of both the leaf and the cup were high and met our standards. You can feel the richness of the volcanic soil in the cup. Cacao, spices, roasted nuts, malt in a smooth silky liquor brought about a smile of satisfaction – passing the standard test for good tea. It must make you smile!
What added to the goodness of the tea was that the plantation was under-conversion for Organic certification. Already 55% of the garden was organic, and the rest is scheduled to get its certification at the end of this year. The tea farm is committed to the preserving the “Andean fog forest eco-system”, while also running a community development program that focuses on education of the local children.
Going back to the history of tea in Colombia, the government in the 1950s started tea plantation in three areas with the aim to “diversify” agriculture. One such experimental plantation was started in the lands of Don Joaquin Llano in the west Andes. Alberto Llano, the son of Joaquin Llano, while studying in England grew to appreciate the tea culture. Upon his return, he was determined to revive the tea plantation in his father’s lands. He dedicated most of his time to studying about the tea plant from books that came by ship and visiting other tea plantations in Latin America. Once he gained enough confidence he extended the tea plantation and built a factory.
By the way, the tea that was originally planted in Colombia came from Brazil. That will be a story for another day soon.
I would like you to try the two teas we have selected – Andean Black Premier and Cacao Kisses. One is a pure black tea and the other black tea blended with cacao shells and nibs. Both of them are amazing; but we will wait for your verdict eagerly.