The Full Tea Experience

Skyline of Jakarta.

Arriving in Jakarta

Exhausted from the three-flight trip to Jakarta, my colleague Emily and I found ourselves darting through empty Indonesian highways at 1am to reach our destination: a hotel in the heart of Jakarta. This was, of course, only the beginning destination. Our 10 day journey would bring us through many cities, hotels, and proposed another 7 flights; a large traveling enterprise for two rookie adventurers. Thankfully our fearless leader Charity (a well seasoned traveler), as well as a friendly Filipino agriculturalist, Fais, met us in the city, following a deep and much needed rest. Our first full day in Indonesia brought our party of four to a beautiful old hotel, where we all gathered to experience high tea. To our disappointment the hotel did not serve Indonesian tea, but rather a Western brand that was sourced elsewhere. While the food was delicious the tea left something to be desired...

A lavish courtyard.

Tea Auction

Our second day in Jakarta led us to a tea auction. Arriving at the auction center, we were greeted with blooming greenery, soothing fountains, and when stepping inside, delightful air-conditioning (something we had come into a greater appreciation for during our stay.) Only two of our group at a time could enter the auctioning room to represent Chariteas, so Emily and I attended the first half. Comfy office chairs and complimentary tea welcomed us to our seat. The room itself was an architectural delight, with high arched ceilings curving down to the contemporary patterned walls. Much like a college classroom, there were longs rows of tables, all facing the podium where the auctioneer would reside. As people began shuffling in there was an air of excitement. Attendees made their rounds to greet peers with energetic conversations, warm smiles, and high fives. Once the room quieted, the auctioneer began to introduce the lots that would be up for sale. As our understanding of Indonesian and Sundanese language is, well, nonexistent, it made it impossible for us to understand the auction, save the occasional “no bid”, and “withdrawn”. Knowing that we were unlikely to gain much insight from this, we decided to give Charity and Fais the opportunity to try interpreting the auction. After a half hour of enjoying the outer courtyard, our counterparts returned with excitement as they had gotten the chance to smell and view all of the teas that had been up for auction. Although we did not buy any tea, they did get the chance to converse with a few other vendors and gain some insight into the tea trade practices in Indonesia.

Mountainous views from our train-ride to Bandung.

To the train!

Following the auction, we made our way in a “taksi” through crowded streets of hand-trucked food vendors, motorbikes, and cars; squeezing through intersections and missing the scrape of a side mirror by a mere centimeter. I was always in awe of Indonesian drivers’ ability to navigate along lane-less roads and through hordes of bikers. We safely made it to our next stop: the train station. An hour of waiting in a stuffy train station granted a stop by one of the air-conditioned fast-food restaurants. We decided on ice-cream. A charcoal cone was topped with creamy soft serve and dipped in green tea chocolate. It was a dreamy respite from the bustling city outside.

Rice Paddies

Our three hour train ride began by traveling through the poorer areas of Jakarta, a bit of a culture shock from the lavish and beautiful architecture in the main part of the city. Haphazardly built shanties were sometimes stacked on top of each other, though clean clothing lines and swept front doors were a testament to the fact that even in the roughest of areas you can see people's’ pride in taking care of what they have. What really struck me was the amount of people living so close to the train tracks, comfortably ignoring the loud dangerous train as it whipped past their homes. The longer we traveled the more the terrain evolved. The city-scape became flatter farm-land where we watched many people tending to their goats and burn piles. From Jakarta’s mere 25 ft elevation, we began to see the earth rise, as we wound our way past steep cliffs, rice-patties and beautiful terracotta-roofed cottages nestled in the hillsides. We finally arrived in Bandung, the capital of Indonesia’s West Java Province. This city sits at 2520 ft and is surrounded by volcanic terrain with very nutrient rich soil and a mild tropical climate- the perfect place to grow tea. After enjoying the sights and smells of the big city we rested up for our next adventure. A trip to a tea farm!

Entering the Kanaan Estate.

Heading to the Fields

Our morning began with a hearty breakfast and a 3.5 hour drive through mountainous villages on the outskirts of Bandung. Our destination was the Kanaan Estate, a sister farm of the Dewata Estate from whom we purchase sustainably grown teas. Both estates are owned and operated by the Chakra Group, a leader in the Indonesian tea industry. We passed through “Strawberry country”, a sweet smelling stretch of bountiful strawberry gardens, street vendors, and homes. The small lots of berry gardens tapered slowly into fields of- you guessed it- tea!

Government owned tea fields.

Vast fields enveloped the steep hillsides in terraced rows of tea plants. We learned that those fields we had driven past were government owned, and the harvested teas often sold locally. They were kept up, but not particularly well. The contrast from the government owned fields to those of the neighboring Kanaan estate was drastic. While the privately owned fields were dense and bright green, the others were often slightly sparse with the occasional tea-flower and sometimes littered with rubbish- a big problem in Indonesia due to the unfortunate lack of recycling centers and public education on how to manage waste properly. Although this is a worldwide issue, Indonesia has faced some serious waste problems in the past decade. In regions where recycling is not an option, many have resorted to burning their trash, suffering from the negative air quality as a result. Community driven groups have begun making some impact in Indonesia’s “Waste State of Emergency” by building recycling centers, coming up with incentives for people to compost and recycle, and creating a waste-to-energy system that converts waste to methane that is collected and used to create electricity. One thing we are proud to support by partnering with the Dewata Estate (the first and premier estate owned by the Chakra group) is their self- sustainability. In the 90s the estate owners utilized the many streams running through the estate to create hydro-power. They create enough energy to sustain their village of over 2400 residents as well as power the tea processing facilities located on the estate. Being part of the Rainforest Alliance, the Dewata Estate protects the rain-forest surrounding them and aids in reforestation by regularly planting trees.

Kanaan Estate Tea Fields

The Kanaan Estate

Our troupe finally arrived at the tea farm following a long, rough drive through winding gravel roads. The first section of field we saw had lovely bright green shoots, just a week or two away from harvest time! Our hosts brought us to the main cottage where we were introduced to the folks in charge of maintaining the farm. After a delicious cup of White Tea Bud we headed down into the heart of the fields, passing cottages that housed the employees and their families on the way. We were greeted with lots of delighted waves and smiles from all the local kiddos.

We learned that the pest causing the most damage was this little caterpillar and his buddies.

With Fais asking all the right questions about the soil, shade, pest control, and harvesting practices, Emily and I got to enjoy the beauty of the surrounding fields and rain-forest.