In Memory of a Great Tea-Maker: Morris Orchard
Morris Orchard tragically died of complications after contracting COVID-19 last month. To honour this great tea man we will be reposting an interview with him from 2019.
Truly passionate teamakers have become few and far between in the Himalaya, but the late Morris Orchard of Jun Chiyabari in Nepal was a prime example. Proud to be third generation in tea he started his career in the gardens of Darjeeling and was driven by the belief that quality tea is the result of craft and artisanal spirit. The focus and enthusiasm he poured into his work resulted not only in an outstandingly consistent level of quality, he also developed some of the most innovative teas that have come out of Nepal and the entire Himalayan region in many years. His teas are awaited each season as favourites of all the Camellia Sinensis team and clients.
Morris was a calm, humble gentleman, loved by all and highly respected in the industry. I am lucky to have had the chance to know him as a colleague and friend through many annual visits to the Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden.
I met Morris Orchard on my first visit to Jun Chiyabari almost 15 years ago. Morris was hired by his good friend Bachan Gyawali, one of the 2 brothers that own the garden. Having been very impressed by the teas, I was even more impressed when I paid a visit to this very innovative tea project, high up in the Dhankuta region of Nepal. Running the garden and manufacture was a much respected pair of ex-Darjeeling managers, Robin Banerjee as supervisor and Morris Orchard in charge of daily tea-making. Morris was a third generation tea man with a rare passion for the entire process, from the garden to the cup. He also made a wicked pizza.
INTERVIEW WITH THE LATE MORRIS ORCHARD FROM 2019
When and how did you first step into the world of tea?
I joined the world of tea as a professional in April 1992, straight after graduation. It came to me naturally to work in this field because I had always lived and grew up in a tea garden, be it in Assam, Dooars, Terai or Darjeeling.
Both my grandfathers and my father were from the tea world, with me being the 3rd generation following them. Whenever I’d come home from boarding school, the aromas, the flavours, the atmosphere of the tea gardens where we lived always welcomed me. This is something that is a big part of me. I feel lucky to have such childhood memories lingering still now.
Tell us a bit more about your gardens.
Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden is situated high up in the Himalayas in Dhankuta District of Nepal. The elevation ranges from 1400m to almost 2200m above sea level, with 1850m being the closest average. We are certified organic and are striving to become always more natural, become more and more like any forest or jungle where trees are nurtured naturally. Of course, we will keep pruning the tea trees and other stuff, but for example, we voluntarily let the weeds grow in many areas as they would in a jungle. That is why the garden seems so lush.
Here we produce many varieties of teas all along the oxidation spectrum, some of which are manufactured using regional practices, others based on techniques we learnt from East Asia. I endeavor to innovate and constantly improve upon the tea we make.
How many workers do you hire and how much tea do you produce a year?
We currently have 274 workers, 90% of which are female workers. And we produce 15 to 18 tons of tea annually.
What is your favourite part of the job?
My favourite part of the job is to visit the tea fields and observe the fruits of our labour, the labour so many have put in (currently and in the past). I like to ask myself how to take this forward, respecting and caring for the efforts of those who came before us.
I also greatly like tea tastings: the excitement before the tasting and the joy that comes from the actual tasting. Tasting is the culmination of the whole process, the pinnacle of the effort everyone puts in. I also see it as a reflection of my skills and techniques, so it is always a great joy to taste teas.
Finally, I like to know what we have made and what can be done to make it better. I like to feel satisfied with what we have and anticipate the feedback from our customers. That motivates me to push forward and keep giving my best.
Who’s buying your teas? Local or international clients?
We mostly have international customers spread all over the world, but we are trying to develop our local market too.
Have you seen any changes since your beginnings in the industry?
Oh yes. I have witnessed many changes since I started working in the industry, and indeed since watching my father and grandfather work. Over time, tea has become less of a bulk product, or an industrial product. Today, in this part of the world, it is considered more of an artisanal product. It is not that the industrial teas have disappeared, but there is a definite trend for artisanal teas.
I also started seeing more sensitivity towards nature: from teas grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers to organic farming, then to Bio-Dynamic farming and now moving towards even more natural farming. All in the spirit of Masanobu Fukuoka*.
Having lived the differences in cultures between Darjeeling and Nepal, I also noted we have less hierarchy in Nepal. Here, the Tea Master has to be more involved in the actual crafting of the tea, involved at every step, whereas elsewhere, it is more giving orders and then evaluating the end of the process.
Tea making has become more personalized.
What is your favourite tea?
In my early career, I loved summer tea (2nd Flush teas). Now I look forward for the spring teas (1st flush), but my actual favourites are autumn and winter teas.
* A Japanese farmer and philosopher, father of the natural farming movement.
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