Company Spotlight: Bitaco Unique Colombian Tea

Most people know about the high quality coffee that the South American country of Colombia is known for producing, but not so many people, including those in the tea drinking community, know of one particular Colombian estate growing and manufacturing some phenomenal green and black teas. Without further ado, I am happy to introduce you to Bitaco Unique Colombian Tea.

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Bitaco Tea Factory – Photo used with permission from Bitaco Tea

The Bitaco tea estate and factory is located along the Andes Mountains, near the Bitaco Regional Forest Reserve, in the bio-geographical region of Choco. The tea is grown at an elevation of over 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level, the ground consisting of nutrient-rich volcanic soil. The estate consists of 51 hectares (126 acres) of land under tea cultivation. The Google map below shows the approximate location of Bitaco.

Building on 55 years of experience in the Colombian tea industry, the Agricola Himalaya S.A. company began developing Bitaco Unique Colombian Tea in 2013. The intent was to manufacture the best quality loose leaf teas in the most modern, high-tech factory in South America. Since then, the estate and factory have obtained USDA Organic certification and UTZ certification, while developing a high quality line of unblended black and green teas, and blended varieties.

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Bitaco Tea Estate – Photo used with permission from Bitaco Tea

Currently, Bitaco Unique Colombian Tea is exported to the U.S.A., Germany, England, and France. As mentioned above, the current offerings include the following styles of unblended black tea: tippy, wiry, and leafy. They also offer blends of black tea with some rather delicious ingredients, like the Cacao Kisses (black tea, cacao husks, cacao nibs), Andean Princess (black tea, isabella grape skin, Andean raspberries, hibiscus petals), and Coffee Kisses (black tea, Arabica coffee beans).

Also available are the following unblended green tea styles: needles, wiry, and leafy. Blended green tea products include the Mist Forest (green tea, pear guava, soursop), and Tropical Charming (green tea, lulo, starfruit, mango). Either of these sound pretty amazing as an iced tea. It’s finally getting sunny and warm here in Pittsburgh, so dreams of sipping iced tea on a hot day should soon be a reality.

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Fresh Plucked Bitaco Tea Leaves – Photo used with permission from Bitaco Tea

In addition to creating organic, world class loose leaf tea, Bitaco Tea and Agricola Himalaya also strive to be pillars of their environmental and social communities. The Agricola Himalaya Foundation was created to help local children have better educational opportunities, as well as improve the local infrastructure, culture, and technology.

You can keep up to date on all things Bitaco by following them on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Thank you for taking your time to learn more about Bitaco Unique Colombian Tea. Many thanks to the management at Bitaco for providing samples. These will be my first Colombian tea experiences, and I am excited to get to them! Looks for reviews on many of these products in the near future.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Cheers!

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Company Spotlight: Rakkasan Tea Company in Dallas, Texas

It is my sincere pleasure to introduce you to Rakkasan Tea Company, a retail and wholesale tea vendor based in Dallas, Texas, founded in 2017.

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Rakkasan Tea Company is not your typical retail tea vendor. The founders and team have a specific mission for their business. That mission is to help spur awareness, peace, and opportunities for economic growth in tea producing areas that have had relatively recent political and societal conflicts or war, including Vietnam, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.

The vision for this mission began with the founder, Brandon Friedman, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, who served as an infantry officer in the 101st Airborne Division. After honorably serving his country, Brandon took an interest in specialty tea. Since then, Brandon has teamed up with another veteran and Green Beret, Terrence Kamauf, and his wife Crystal Kamauf, to lead the Rakkasan Tea Company mission. These people have experienced the destruction of conflict, and now work to help reverse the long-lasting effects of war, both at home and abroad.

The origin of the term “Rakkasan” is Japanese, which translates into “parachutist”. This term is used as a nickname for a particular unit of the 101 Airborne Division. Love the name. Love the connection and significance.

The teas offered by Rakkasan Tea Company are also extraordinary, or as Rakkasan succinctly puts it, “Uncommon Tea From Uncommon Places”. Not your ordinary flavored and blended commodity teas, their products are pure, unflavored, unadulterated, high quality teas from farms who aspire to create the perfect tea experience. If you are reading this blog, you have probably experienced tea from Sri Lanka, but few of you have probably had the pleasure of drinking a tea from the Amba Estate. This estate does not produce your typical Ceylon black tea. Amba Estate teas redefine high quality Sri Lankan tea. If you haven’t tried them yet, start with the Amba Ceylon Black. Your new obsession will begin there. Don’t worry, Rakkasan offers bulk discounts!

Rakkasan Tea Company does offer special pricing for other retail and restaurant businesses. If you are interested in working with Rakkasan, and making a difference for veterans here in the U.S. and communities abroad in war-torn areas, please contact Rakkasan to discuss pricing. Their contact information can be found on the website.

You can also follow Rakkasan Tea Company on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram.

In the near future, I will have the pleasure of reviewing the Rukeri Black Tea from Rwanda, the H’Mong Kings Green Tea from Vietnam, and the Six Borders Black Tea from Vietnam. I hope to have the review of the Rukeri Black Tea posted within a few hours.

Thank you for taking your time to learn about the Rakkasan Tea Company, and be sure to check out and experience the interesting teas on their website. Many thanks to Brandon and his team at Rakkasan for providing the above tea samples! Cheers to you, Brandon and the RTC team, and to your mission!

Company Spotlight: Araksa Tea Garden in Chiang Mai, Thailand

It is my sincere pleasure to introduce you to Araksa Tea Garden, located in the Mae Taeng district, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The Google map below shows the location of Araksa Tea Garden.

Araksa Tea Garden is a beautiful estate consisting of 45 hectares (111 acres) of land under tea cultivation. The estate grows Camellia Sinensis Assamica tea bushes, and the current bushes are said to be 40 to 70 years old. The average elevation of the garden is 550 meters (1,800 feet) above sea level.

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Assamica Tea Bush – Photo used with ownership permission from Araksatea.com Gallery

The tea garden was originally founded in 1939, and among the first tea factories in Thailand was established. The estate began growing the Assamica tea bushes is 1941, then consisting of 20 hectares (50 acres). After some years, the garden changed ownership, and was not maintained for over two decades. Again in 2014, the ownership changed to it’s current owners, who have taken great care to restore the garden.

Due to the length of time that the garden went untouched, and because the current ownership believes in environmentally responsible farming practices, the tea bushes have not been directly exposed to chemicals for decades. Together with the elevation of the garden, the high quality soil, and filtered mountain valley water, Araksa Tea Garden is beginning to produce some very high quality teas. The garden is currently in the process of obtaining USDA Organic and EU Organic certifications.

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Fresh Picked Assamica Tea Leaves – Photo used with ownership permission from Araksatea.com Gallery

In addition to environmental responsibility, Araksa Tea Garden also focuses on social responsibility in the community. This includes buying as many resources as possible from local farmers and businesses, employing locals and providing training, rewarding employees based on skills and performance, and sponsoring teachers in mountainous areas to promote education for children in remote villages.

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Hand-harvesting Tea Leaves – Photo used with ownership permission from Araksatea.com Gallery

Currently, Araksa Tea Garden produces green tea, black tea, white tea, and herbal teas, such as lemongrass and butterfly pea. The teas are hand-picked, manually roasted, and hand-rolled. I will be posting reviews of the Preserve Green Tea, the Silk Tea, the Cha Yen Black Tea, the White Tea, and the Bluefly Herbal Tea. Yes, the Bluefly Herbal Tea is interesting enough to warrant a review. Even my six year old son loved the Bluefly Herbal Tea. As of this post, Araksa only sells their products in their brick-and-mortar tea shop, so I feel quite fortunate to have an opportunity to try these teas.

Araksa Tea Garden offers guided, hands-on tours of the estate, which demonstrates how leaves are grown, harvested, and processed. They also offer a beautiful setting for business or personal events.

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Looks Like a Beautiful Place to Enjoy Some Great Tea! – Photo used with ownership permission from Araksatea.com Gallery

You can keep up-to-date on all things Araksa by following them on Facebook and Instagram.

Thank you for taking your time to learn more about the Araksa Tea Garden. I hope to post a review of the Preserve Green Tea tomorrow. Many thanks to the management at Araksa for their generosity in sending the samples. I am truly looking forward to experiencing these unique teas!

Company Spotlight: Zealong Tea Estate in New Zealand

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Zealong Tea Estate, the only commercial tea estate operated in the entire country of New Zealand.

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Zealong Sculpture – Photo Courtesy of Zealong.Com Website

This beautiful, organic tea estate is located in Hamilton, Waikato region, New Zealand. It currently consists of about 1.2 million tea bushes spread over 40 hectares (about 100 acres) of land. The Google map below shows the approximate location of Zealong Tea Estate.

The estate grounds were used as a dairy farm before being purchased and repurposed around 1996. Only about 130 tea plants were originally planted, and now the number has grown to about 1.2 million, as noted above. The leaves are hand-picked by estate workers, then produced into green, black, and oolong styles of finished tea. About 20 tonnes of finished tea are produced each year, all from three short harvest seasons. Information is forthcoming regarding the cultivar types being propagated at the estate.

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Zealong Tea Estate – Photo Courtesy of Zealong.Com Website

In addition to the classic, unblended, and all organic Green, Black, and Aromatic (or Oolong) styles of tea offered by Zealong Tea Estate, unique blends of Zealong tea leaves and herbs sourced elsewhere are created, with names such as Ice Breaker, Fire and Ice, Lady Gatsby, and Green Heart. They also offer more well-known, famous blends such as Earl Grey and Chai. All of these products can be found at the Zealong Shop website, or at the beautiful brick and mortar tea shop at the Zealong Tea Estate (photo below). The Green Tea, Black Tea, and Aromatic Tea will all be reviewed on this blog in the near future.

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Retail Tea Shop at Zealong Tea Estate – Photo Courtesy of Zealong.Com Website

Growing and producing high quality organic tea is not the only operation that Zealong Tea Estate excels at. The estate offers a fine dining experience with tea infused menu options, beautiful meetings rooms for private events, as well as a tea ceremony and tea tasting with each guided tour. Looking at the Zealong.com gallery, I can imagine spending a lot of time creating some unforgettable memories at this place. It looks amazing!

Zealong’s tea products can be found in places other than New Zealand, of course, with distributors located in United Kingdom, Germany, Czech Republic, China, and New Caledonia. If these are not convenient options for you, do not let that stop you from trying these teas! Check out their online shop on the Zealong website.

All photos used on this page were found at the Zealong.com website, in the gallery, and are property thereof.

Company Spotlight: Lumbini Tea Valley

Today, I am pleased to introduce you to Lumbini Tea Valley, headquarted in Deniyaya, Ruhuna region, Southern province, Sri Lanka. Below is a Google map showing the location of the Lumbini Tea Factory. The estates and factory are neighbors to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.

Since being founded in 1984 by Mr. Dayapala Jayawardana and continued today by Chaminda Jayawardana, Lumbini Tea Valley has developed a reputation for being among the most innovative tea manufacturers in Sri Lanka, winning multiple awards over the years for most innovative products on their hand-spun black and green teas. Within the first five seconds of looking into the generous box of samples they provided, it is easy to understand how Lumbini earned these awards. There are teas here that I have never seen produced anywhere. More on this later.

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Lumbini Tea Valley Aerial View – Photo Courtesy of Lumbini Tea Valley Management

Lumbini Tea Valley owns about 120 hectares (300 acres) of their own tea gardens, and works with small estate holders who own about 1,600 hectares (3,950 acres) combined. The tea gardens have an average altitude of about 450 to 500 meters (1,450 feet to 1,650 feet) above sea level. At this altitude, these teas would be considered low-grown teas in the Sri Lanka tea industry. The estate propagates two cultivars of tea bushes, including the TRI 2026 for black teas and the TRI 2043 for white teas. Lumbini Tea Valley employs about 250 people. The annual production of made tea currently stands at 600,000 kilograms.

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Lumbini Tea Valley – Photo Courtesy of Lumbini Tea Valley Management

In addition to free factory and estate tours, Lumbini Tea Valley offers tea training where participants pluck their own leaves, process them, taste and take home the finished product. That sounds pretty awesome! They also have tea tasting lessons and events.

Lumbini Tea Valley is separated into two different brands, Dalu and Giri. The Dalu brand appears to focus on offering the pure, unblended and unflavored, artisan style black, green, and white teas from their garden. The Giri brand, although it does offer unblended and unflavored options, seems to focus on a more broad range of teas, including seasonal varieties from the other famous Sri Lankan regions (Uva, Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, Ruhuna), blended teas with dried fruit, flowers, and/or Ceylon spices, and most interestingly, honey coated black teas!

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Lumbini Tea Valley – Photo Courtesy of Lumbini Tea Valley Management

These honey coated teas are like nothing I have seen coming from any other tea company anywhere. I included a photo of the sample packet below. This tea arrives moist, soaked in honey, with excess honey coating the inside of the sample bag. It is difficult to not get instantly excited about these products. It will probably not surprise you that my first review will highlight the Bee Honey Coated Ceylon Spice Black Tea. Look for this review to be posted later today or tomorrow.

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Lumbini Tea Valley and their distributor in the United States can be found on Facebook. Lumbini Tea Valley USA offers many (but not all) of the fascinating teas manufactured at Lumbini Tea Valley. Unfortunately, and surprisingly, the honey coated teas are not offered by Lumbini Tea Valley USA. Considering the artisan quality teas manufactured by this company, I am slightly surprised to not see more social media activity on the other popular platforms. They will be getting plenty of attention from me over the next couple of months, as the sample package will be taking up a large amount of my review slots in the near future.

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Lumbini Tea Valley Bushes – Photo Courtesy of Lumbini Tea Valley Management

Here is a link to the Lumbini Tea Valley company profile on Youtube. This video shows the beautiful estate lands, the factory, the hard working employees picking and processing the tea, and provides plenty of useful information.

In the meantime, I look forward to introducing you to some of the beautiful teas being produced at Lumbini Tea Valley. And many thanks to the management at Lumbini Tea Valley for their generosity in sending samples. I am definitely excited to get started on these reviews.