Origin is more than a geographical location, estate, garden, terroir, or cultivar. Tea is only possible because of people. In many parts of the world, tea is hand-picked, rolled, and processed by families who live on and around the estates. These communities are often rural and isolated, with limited access to healthcare or education. At Smith, we understand that our passion for tea comes with the responsibility to celebrate, support, and sustain the people who make origin possible.
One of the communities dearest to our hearts is Darjeeling, a small town, and its surrounding district in the West Bengal state of India. Here in the foothills of the Himalayas, tea estates pepper the mountainsides, washed by heavy mists and tended by an army of laborers. This is where one of the most famous teas in the world is produced, and where Steve Smith’s passion for origin—and for the people who make it possible—was cultivated. Steve spent formative time in Darjeeling, building relationships with tea growers and developing a deep love for the teas they produced. His favorite tea was named Bungalow, after the classic Estate Manager residence that sits at the center of each Darjeeling garden.
More than a decade later, we continue to cherish those relationships by partnering with Broadleaf, an organization dedicated to providing community-based healthcare and education to tea growing communities in Darjeeling. Founded in 2007, Broadleaf’s mission is to “unlock human potential through community-led innovations in health and education.” Their commitment to serving this region has positively impacted the lives of thousands of children and their families, providing resources and care to this community.
Having visited with Broadleaf on several occasions, our Head Teamaker, Ravi Kroesen, has seen the positive effect of their work firsthand. Each Healthcare Advocate they hire manages three to four schools and is locally situated within the municipality and passionate about helping these children. Often, they know many of the children in these schools through growing up in the area, so there is a familiarity and trust already built in.
Travelling with these Healthcare Advocates to various schools in the Darjeeling District, Kroesen witnessed them perform a range of educational classes on health and screening tests for things like vision. Often, it’s the simple things like washing hands regularly or identifying a child with poor vision which can bolster a child’s attendance or keep them engaged in class. It still holds true for these children, that a good education is one of the best ways to lift them and future generations of tea estate workers out of poverty.
Like many rural tea estates, families in Darjeeling face poverty and marginalization every day, exacerbated by a lack of local infrastructure. Many tea growers belong to ethnic minorities and face disadvantages and discrimination in their home country. Recent years have also forced new challenges on tea growers. The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with international tensions and a changing climate, all threaten the safety and stability of families on tea estates.
Our goal in partnering with Broadleaf is to provide resources and opportunities to the vulnerable communities we love and depend on. We hope that you will join us in supporting Broadleaf by adding a small donation at checkout, and that the next time we share a cup of tea together, we can express gratitude for the careful hands that made it possible.
Written by Jeffery Miller