An exclusive from In Pursuit of Tea! This green tea, grown in Samcholing, Bhutan, has never before been exported. The tea fields are located at the summer palace of the second king, and were originally planted in the 1950s. A collective of 27 women now operate the high elevation three-acre farm, hand-picking, pan-firing and rolling the small leaves into a simple twist shape; consistent production has taken place only since 2015.
The fruity, sweet flavor has pleasant notes of mushroom stem and melon rind. Unlike many green teas, the leaves can stand up to multiple steeping — try four or five from the same leaves, and enjoy the unique taste of a new Himalayan tea tradition.
Region: Trongsa District
Tasting Notes: fruity, sweet, melon rind
Year of Production: Spring 2016
Notes from Sebastian on Thunder Dragon Green: While working as a travel adventure guide in the Himalayas in Bhutan in the mid ‘90s, I heard an offhand comment from some friends that the second king had cultivated tea plants—around the 1950s—and it piqued my interest. In Pursuit of Tea was a few years down the road, but I was already fascinated with the plant and exploring various styles of tea throughout the region.
After pressing for more details, they told me that the plants no longer existed; they had been cut down long ago. But I decided to go and look for myself. To get there was not easy: an hour and half drive from the remote region of central Bhutan, which lies far from any cities, and a slippery hike up from road, led me to the royal family's former summer palace. Less a castle in the western sense, it was more like a manor house, and at the time, it was only inhabited by a gomchen, a monk who taught a handful of children inside. He didn't know of any tea on the grounds, but in a horseshoe-shaped field next to the house, I spotted something familiar. Lush with deep green, serrated leaves, and overgrown into small trees about twenty feet tall- here were the tea plants, and they were alive!
To propagate some more manageable and healthy bushes from these original trees, I then started working with the Ministry of Agriculture. Additional help came from a nearby family, who had some limited experience processing their handful of Camellia sinensis var. assamica plants into a rough black tea for suja, or butter tea, one of the traditional preparations of the area. Every year or so, I would return to check in, but progress was slow. Significant production didn't kick in until a Korean botanist came to the area for three years, lending his technical support to teach them how make green tea. Once the Ministry of Agriculture built a standalone processing facility and teahouse (2012), customers began to come to taste and purchase the tea.
In 2015, I was invited by the government to help refine the tea's quality, and to address issues of consistency in production. Currently, the facility functions as a cooperative of 27 women, all of whom pick and process about 3 acres of tea plants. The tea plants are all Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (originally from Kalimpong), propagated by seed. The pluck is two leaves and a bud; the tea is withered and pan-fired in a wok to arrest the leaves' oxidation. It is then shaped, either rolled by hand or by a small machine. After a second pan-firing, it is finished with exposure to hot air until the leaves are fully withered.
Most of the tea is still consumed locally. But in 2016, In Pursuit of Tea became the sole importer of this tea, and I am honored to share it with the West. While continuing to support this community agriculture, I’m thrilled to introduce this unique tea while keeping a new Bhutanese tradition alive.