High above the Western flanks of the Andes, in La Cumbre region, at over 1800m of altitude we find the luxurious garden origin of this organic black tea.
Producer of the Moment: Mr Juan Pablo Silva
Every month, the Camellia Sinensis team presents one of its favourite producers and shares with you their encounter, along with his story.
This month we have Mr. Juan Pablo Silva, a tea producer in Colombia. Jasmin's first contact with Mr. Silva dates back to 2015 when his company was just starting to produce specialty teas. They kept in touch with samples and feedback until the first Colombian tea made it into the catalogue. Following a first meeting with the Bitaco team at the 2018 World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, Mr. Silva invited Jasmin, with his rich knowledge of Chinese manufacturing techniques, to train his staff on tea processing in Colombia. First their team visited our Tea Studio in India for some training in the Spring of 2019 and then in November 2019, Jasmin went to Columbia to help the garden company diversify its production.
Below is a short interview with Mr. Juan Pablo Silva.
When and how did you first step into the world of tea?
I started working for the company in 2015 with the opening of the new orthodox tea factory. But the tea project here precedes me by many years. Back in 1940, test planting was started here with Sri Lankan tea plants in Bitaco. The first tea company, founded in 1960, was called "Hindu". At first, they produced orthodox tea before switching to CTC-type industrial production in the 1970s. A new CTC factory was built here in 1994 before production reverted back to orthodox in 2013.
Tell us a bit more about your gardens.
We own 55 hectares of certified organic tea plantation surrounded by subtropical forest. Our soils are volcanic and the climate is stable year-round. The place is an important refuge for many species of plants and birds. 772 types of plants and 256 species of birds to be precise. The Agricola Himalaya Foundation, a branch of the organization, is responsible for the creation of this forest reserve which is working to preserve this special ecosystem.
How many workers do you hire and how much tea do you produce a year?
For Bitaco, we employ 85 workers. Everyone down to the last tea picker is guaranteed a good salary and a pension for their retirement if they work with us long enough. We produce around 20 000 kg of tea each year with the new factory.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I like getting up early in the morning to hear the birds. I also like the smell of tea in the oxidation room, and lunch time when I have a few laughs and share stories with my colleagues.
Who’s buying your teas? Local or international clients?
83 % of our production is sold internationally. Columbia is very big on coffee. Only 17 % is sold locally.
Have you seen any changes since your beginnings in the industry?
The market (especially international) increasingly demands special teas, with more interest in the process, culture or history of the tea. To meet this demand, we created the new orthodox tea factory in 2013.
Tea companies are now looking for direct contact with farmers. Rather than choosing to buy their products from large distributors, more customers want to buy locally and even visit the plantations. I think it is a better this way.
What is your favourite tea?
La Cumbre Bitaco organic black tea (offered at 10% off for a limited time - starting on February 27th)
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