Nov 2018 issue.
A chatter rises in the heavy monsoon air, descending the steep slopes of Makaibari. The fog clears, bit by bit, to reveal a group of tea workers in an animated post-lunch conversation. They pause for a breath or two; their hands don’t. Their nimble fingers keep working on the tender green leaves—two leaves-and a bud—which, by the same time next day, will be ready to fill the cups of connoisseurs with their exquisite muscatel flavour.
Till some time ago, the women would have an eye trained on the steep flight of steps that Chhota Saheb would have taken to descend from his residence in his sprightly gait.
That was before The Bungalow burnt down.
Now the chor bato (a narrow hill path used as a shortcut) cutting through the rows of tea bushes is covered in moss, barely revealing a skeleton of the narrow concrete steps. It’s been a while since Chhota Saheb last took these steps, or gallivanted from slope to slope on horseback. And, it’s unlikely he ever will.
For, Chhota Saheb, the legendary Rajah Banerjee, has hung up his planter’s boots, and left the estate—home to four generations of his family and the famed Makaibari tea for over 150 years—to make a new beginning with another venture at the age of 70. In mid-October, he launched his new label, Rimpocha, a “reincarnated tea avatar”, which offers a range of single and blended specialty teas.
His departure marks an end of an era at Makaibari, known the world over as the maker of some of the finest, most expensive teas.
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