Many delightful dishes and food preparations owe their existence to chance occurrence! The wild smoked tea from the Northeast is one such example. For many of us, our day begins with the morning cuppa. It’s no different for the indigenous communities of the Northeast save one- their preferred cup is of wild smoked tea. A black metal kettle with steeped leaves is a familiar sight in the kitchens of almost every single home. Consumption of this smoky brew is tightly woven into the fabric of everyday life. From being a wake-up brew, to a post meal cleanser, from an accompaniment to friendly banter, to a must-have for social gatherings - there is always a reason to enjoy this delightful tea!
If this smoky brew has piqued your curiosity, read on as we have something interesting to share about its origins.
The forests of Northeast India are home to wild tea trees. These are of the same variety, Camellia sinensis, as the tea cultivated in plantations but, in the forest they are found growing wild without any human intervention. They are ancient – hundred years old or more- and can grow up to thirty feet in height with a girth than can compete with an adult elephant’s trunk!
In the native communities, there has been an age old tradition of foraging wild tea leaves from the forests and brewing them for tea. The foraged tea leaves are hand crafted and dried in the sun before they are ready to be brewed. Sun-drying is an important step in the processing of wild tea. There aren’t any facilities available for machine or oven drying. Electricity is a recent development in these far flung regions but, the power infrastructure continues to be quite rudimentary and unreliable. However, this is a blessing in disguise when it comes to processing wild tea. The indigenous technique of sun-drying helps in retaining the natural flavours and the integrity of the whole leaves!
Now, the weather can be quite fickle in the mountains. While the monsoon season starts in June and goes on till September, quick showers can happen anytime during the day, through the year. A clear and sunny day can soon turn cloudy & misty and a quick drizzle is not uncommon. Often, the wild tea leaves foraged in the day get wasted because of the unconducive weather conditions for sun-drying. In order to overcome this wastage, the natives started drying the processed tea on the kitchen fireplace using fire wood. The drying over the fire lends a delectable smokiness to the tea and over time the hill artisans grew to like the smoky flavour. It soon became the preferred way of processing and enjoying foraged wild tea. So, we have the unpredictable weather and ingenuity of the natives to thank for this amazing brew which is not only flavourful but also brimming with many wellness benefits.
Wild tea possesses a complex flavour profile and higher wellness benefits than commercially farmed tea. There are various reasons for this. The tea trees in the wild grow in a bio-diverse eco-system and are influenced by the flora and fauna around them. As these are much older trees and remain unpruned, their root systems are more complex and grow deeper into the earth, thereby absorbing more nutrients & minerals from the soil. Not to mention, the forest soil is richer and unpolluted too.
On account of their natural origins and growing in an unpolluted bio-diverse environment without any human influence, they are beyond organic! The wild smoked tea is packed with antioxidants and offers a host wellness benefits ranging from lowering cholesterol to soothing the gut and more.
Perhaps, the village elders understood their potency, thus, leading to the tradition of drinking wild smoked tea which has been carried forward through the generations. Interestingly, it’s usage was never commercialised.
At Beyondarie, we have hand crafted this dark, strong, and high caffeine content brew using similar techniques that the indigenous communities have employed for centuries. The sensational smoky flavour that it carries distinguishes it from a cup of wild black tea.
Savour the brew steeped in ancient traditions that has such an ingenious origin. It also makes for a great story to tell when you are catching up with your friends!