Can the deeply entrenched Nepali tea habit be changed?Tea is Nepal’s beverage of choice.
Tea is Nepal’s beverage of choice. From starting your day with a hot brew, to taking well deserved mid-day breaks over a steaming cup, tea has become synonymous with the Nepali way of life. Yet, beyond the few variations in the preparation of tea—milk, black, lemon and the likes—different kinds of tea are seldom ventured into. Nishchal Banskota, a 23-year-old tea connoisseur and entrepreneur, is out to change that. With the recent opening of his venture, BG Tea Bar, in Jhamsikhel, which sells over 16 different organic teas, he has set out on the seemingly improbable task of changing local tea habits. In this interview with the Post’s Sanjit Pradhananga, Banskota demystifies the world of orthodox teas and speaks on whether selling tea to Nepalis is akin to trying to sell water to a fish. Exceprts:
Congratulations on the launch of the Tea Bar. What has the reception been so far?
The reception of the tea bar has been very good. It is the first tea bar in Nepal and people have commented very positively regarding our
concept. After having visited the tea bar most customers usually leave saying, “I really didn’t know there was so much into the drink that we have been consuming for years.”
How did the idea of BG tea bar come about?
Well, it’s a long story but I’ll try to be as brief as I can. In Nepal, the general understanding of tea is just the CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) tea, which we have with milk and sugar. It is one aspect of tea, for sure, but tea cannot be limited to just that. There is a completely different world of orthodox teas, which is enjoyed for its special flavours and is taken without milk or sugar. For simpler understanding, let’s take green tea for example since it is gaining wide popularity due to its immense health benefits. So, there aren’t many outlets in Nepal which serve tea exclusively and even when some coffee shops serve tea, it isn’t made the perfect way. Brewing tea is actually very complex. To give you a general hint, every tea should be brewed at a different temperature of water and should be steeped for a different time to bring out the real flavours. For instance, green tea, which is a less oxidised variety of tea, should be brewed at around 80 degree Celsius for about two-three minutes while black tea which is an oxidised tea, the temperature should be around 95 degree Celsius and steeping time would be around four minutes. Other teas like oolong, silver tips, white tea have their own specific brewing temperature and steeping time. Plus, one of the main thing is the water for tea should never ever be boiled.
Therefore, I wanted to set-up a place where people could actually enjoy perfectly brewed tea (right temperature and right steeping time) and at the same time, I wanted to educate people more on tea. Tea is considered to be sort of a low-class drink and coffee is thought of as the higher class drink to be really honest. However, it is actually not true, the orthodox blends of teas are actually considered to be specialty wines.
Also, tea is such an amazing drink that can be blended with so many different kinds of herbs, spices, flowers and fruits and people have never really tried that before and when I saw all the different varieties in Teavana (a company in the USA), I was determined to bring that back to Nepal. Hence, with the mix of all these thing the idea of a tea bar turned into a reality in January 2016.
What is your central goal for the Tea Bar? What are you and your team trying to accomplish?
As mentioned earlier, the culture of tea in Nepal is absolutely limited to CTC teas with milk and sugar and the goal of the Tea Bar is to change that. It is to educate people on the vast world of orthodox teas. It is us in the tea industry who have not given importance in sharing the tastes and knowledge of tea to the general public. So that is exactly what we want to do. Furthermore, tea is a healthy drink and we want to promote that as well as the organic movement. It is really important for people to move on to organic foods and especially tea because tea processing doesn’t involve any washing. If pesticides are present on the leaf during picking, they only get rinsed off in your cup!
So, the main goal is to create a tea culture in Nepal. We produce such fine orthodox teas that compete in the global market but we ourselves do not know about these high-end teas.
In Nepal, it is not like different types of teas are not available. But why do you think as a culture we are so stuck to using only a certain type of tea leaves?
It is not that we are stuck with different kind of tea leaves. In fact, every single tea in the whole world comes from the same plant Camellia Sinensis. It is just that the processing makes it different. As said earlier, there are two forms of production of tea which is CTC and Orthodox.
For ages, we have been consuming the CTC (commercially mass-produced and cheap) teas with milk and sugar. That is the beverage that probably all Nepali people want in the morning. We have been accustomed to its taste and changing that is difficult. Another reason, perhaps, is that high-end orthodox teas are expensive which is also why it is not that popular. Another main reason that I see is the lack of awareness among the general people. As said earlier, I blame the people in the tea industry for not promoting such healthy and high-quality tea in the local market. If you look at the statistics, more than 80 percent of the orthodox tea produced in Nepal is exported to various countries in Europe and Americas. They get premium prices because of its high quality, but unfortunately, they have not found a market here.
Have you had trouble trying to change the perception of your customers about tea? Do
people come looking for different types of tea? How do you even begin to make someone more familiarised with the different types of tea?
To be honest, it has been really an interesting venture and not that difficult because I and my staff talk about facts and the whole process of tea making and the perfect way to brew it. So people are actually very receptive on receiving the knowledge and tasting the teas for themselves.
When we first opened, we had the classic Nepali Chiya (CTC tea with milk and sugar) on the menu just to give people the freedom to actually have the Nepali variation we are accustomed to. However, it has been more than a month we have been opened and we have only served six cups of it while we have served more than 1000 cups of other orthodox teas. The one kg sugar that I bought has been a waste. We have been pretty convincing and people actually come to taste the fine teas and try new things and hence, I completely took the Nepali Chiya off the menu.
Also, once every week we hold tea tasting sessions where we invite people to come and taste the 16 varieties of our teas and listen to our trained staff regarding the production process, difference between the varieties of teas, how to brew the perfect tea and more information on tea. It is like an introductory class for tea and tea tasting. It has been highly successful and I encourage people to take the session. It is for a fee of Rs 1,000 but you get to taste 16 teas, and also take 50 grams of your favourite tea home with you
What are some of the challenges you have faced so far with regards to BG Tea Bar?
One of the main challenges that I have faced is that when people come for a cup of tea they actually want some food on the side. So, we have to serve some food items as well. I say it, honestly, that we are experts on tea but not on food!
So managing that has been a slight problem but we are being helped by Moon Maya Café which is just beneath our tea bar; they serve their menu at our place as well. We also have baked items delivered to our place regularly and that adds to the variety of food we offer.
What future plans do you have for the Tea Bar?
For the tea bar, I intend to have many more events such as the tea tasting events and encourage people to learn more about tea. I also have plans on bringing the concept of Iced-Tea during the summer.
Long term vision would be to open many more branches and even franchises when the concept is more familiar to people.