Midori. Authentic matcha instant green tea. That’s the latest retail brand to come out of Chota Tingrai, Avantika and Mrityunjay Jalan’s tea bagan. If anything can be termed “destiny”, then the launch of this brand would probably fall under that head. A journey that began in the 1980s with Avantika and Mrityunjay’s father – Mrigendra Jalan would come a full circle in 2016.
In the staid and hierarchy aware world of the Assam tea plantations of the 1980s, Mrigendra Jalan was a novelty. Striving to usher in new tea products and setting up an open, collegial atmosphere at the estate, he was different. One of his ideas was introducing authentic green tea to the country. Then, in his mid 20s, Mrigendra would find a Sensei in the senior statesman of green tea, Ichiro Hara. Mr. Hara of the Umenoen Tea Company in Japan saw a spark in the young Mrigendra. The two would collaborate to set up a green tea plant in Assam. Sadly, the India of the 1980s was not an amenable market for this concept. Mrigendra would leave the world of tea for that of organically grown cotton. For his children, Chota Tingrai became a place they went to for a break from their Kolkata residence.
Twenty five years would go by. Avantika and Mrityunjay would land up in different parts of the world. Avantika would do her graduation in Biology from Carleton College in Minnesota. Propelled by her exposure to the tea garden, she would always feel at home with nature and rural India. An exposure to sustainability when working with tribal villagers in the Western Ghats on a project from the college would give her a direction to learn all about this topic. Mrityunjay would head off to Singapore and join AC Nielsen after his undergrad degree at Singapore Management University. But how long can a plantation man brew numbers? Only so long.
Chota Tingrai, located in the Tinsukia district in the Upper Assam region, is a 600 hectares estate. Bordering the Tingrai forest, the estate has the rich, loamy soil of that region and the Tingrai river flowing through the estate giving it a steady supply of water. 350 hectares of the plantation are cultivated with close to 100 hectares now being organic.
2012 saw Mrigendra and Avantika return to the estate. Mrityunjay joined them in 2015 after spending 5 years in Singapore. This team of three took on different tasks. Avantika led the organic and sustainability drive. Her drive to go organic is a study in perseverance. Believing that the best things take time, Avantika started only with a small section of estate. Only after the benefits of organic farming were proven in that section, were the practices rolled out in a measured manner. Mrityunjay was engaged in getting the green tea factory up and running. And engaged with him in this endeavor – who else but Mr. Ichiro Hara’s son, Shoji Hara. Talk about bonds that last generations.
While organic farming is a testimony to the creed of patience, setting up the new green tea factory was an affirmation that new challenges create their own momentum. Set up in 9 months, with Japanese machinery, the factory incorporates cold storage and vacuum packing. The Japanese machinery had to be tweaked – and continues to be adjusted – for handling the Assam leaves. The team handling the factory is another testament to global collaboration – there is Yanagawa-san who used to be at Kawasaki, the tea machinery company in Japan and is now an integral part of the Chota Tingrai clan being ably assisted by the young Simi, a Dibrugarh educated local girl who looks after the factory management and operations. The factory is now processing close to 300 tons of green tea per year.
Avantika has come a long way from chasing fireflies on this very bagan to becoming an eco champion. Mrityunjay has found his true calling in setting up a modern factory and working towards establishing sales channels for the estate produce. The patriarch, Mrigendra Jalan, has now seen his 30 years old idea finally take root. And some friendships can indeed last more than a generation – the Jalan and Hara families have seen to that.
We wish them all the success with the Midori brand. The word Midori means green in Japanese. But please do not use it when playing Taboo with the Jalans. Avantika and Mrityunjay’s mother, Mrs. Shalini Jalan has banned the use of any word that has connections with tea when playing that game. As to whether that ban is a “sustainable” one or not, we leave you to ponder.