Rajiv Lochan: Bihar Tea Estate Pioneer

KISHANGANJ, Bihar, India

The broad Doke River in Bihar flows through the land of Buddha. It seems the perfect setting for lush and abundant tea gardens but it took pioneers like Rajiv Lochan, founder of Lochan Tea Ltd., to realize that potential.

Lochan was born in 1954 in Uttar Pradesh, in Aligarh, a city of one million located about 90 miles Southeast of New Deli. He arrived in West Bengal with his family in 1976 following training to be an organic chemist at Allahabad University. His introduction to the tea business was in Darjeeling at Jayshree Tea & Industries Ltd., the second largest producer of tea in India.

Bright and very hard working, Lochan soon was managing gardens. In 1990 he was credited with overseeing the highest crop ever produced by Phuguri Tea Estate in Darjeeling, a record that still stands.

In 1992 the Longview Tea Company, Ltd. took possession of the Avongrove Tea Estate, abandoned for 27 years due to legal entanglements. Lochan “put it back on the rails again.”

He spent 15 years in Darjeeling and then worked three years in South India. In 1997 he moved to West Bengal as general manager of Jayshree’s Dinajpur operations.

His fond memories at Longview, Seeyok, Jungpana, Ambootia, Phuguri and Okayti tea estates contributed a wealth of experience and intimate knowledge about tea growing and processing and tea tasting as well as packing and trading.

Lochan is Hindi, speaks five languages and counts among his heroes Lu Yu, the Chinese sage of tea. He knows virtually everybody in Darjeeling district and in the tea quarters of Siliguri. Like the visionary Buddha, he was drawn to Bihar and his dream of establish an estate.

Doke GardensIn 1998 together with son, nephew, sister and staff he established in Siliguri a specialty teas sourcing agency and in nearby Bihar, his own tea farm.

In 1951 the people of India consumed 200 grams of tea, about that of Americans today. Per capita consumption has since risen to 701 grams in 2008. As domestic consumption began to rise, India’s Tea Board began exploring ways to improve vertical growth and new areas that could be opened up for tea planting.

In 1991 the Indian government declared five districts of the Purnia administrative division of Bihar province as non-traditional tea growing areas and invited entrepreneurs from nearby Bengal to plant tea bushes in order to help local economic development.

In early 2005, an experiment was carried out in the tea plantations on the banks of the Doke with very encouraging results. The western world immediately recognized this tea because of its special and unique fruity smell and refreshing flavor. Doke tea is now shipped to China, Canada and the United States and some planters have started marking this tea as “Tea – from the land of Buddha” since Bihar is called the land of Buddha. As the story goes, a member of Lo family meditated on the banks of this river and Buddha gifted this tea to him.

In turning his dream to reality Lochan adopted a state-of-the-art approach of bio diversity and engineered an extensive irrigation system from the river which runs along the north side of the 100 hectare estate. The first spring crop is processed as white teas. Subsequent pluckings are delivered to “bought” leaf factories to be made into quality CTC teas.

Doke River

Doke White Tea is unique. It is organically grown on the banks of the Doke river in a garden planted by the planters for the benefit of tea workers.

Lochan allows the headman and the team that runs the place to retain their language and shamanic customs. Experienced workers are free to build comfortable bungalows and move from the small lodge. Lochan intends to expand the lodge, adding guestrooms for tea students and tea travelers.

During the past seven years Lochan Tea has trained students from Europe, who join the company for three months. This arrangement with a French business school has already brought 50 students to Siliguri for studies. In addition to learning the ins and outs of production, they take back home Indian tea promotion ideas; a very brilliant means to spread ideas and knowledge both ways.

Kishanganj, a Muslim city of 1.3 million that serves as the Purnea district headquarters, is developing as well. Its proximity to Siliguri, the most important tea hub in Northeast India, has led the Tea Board to make plans for an office, a railway stop for containers, rental offices, a museum and a tea park of interest to tourists. The strategically significant district touches Nepal, Uttar Dinajpur and Darjeeling and is very near Bangladesh.

In addition to this link with France, Rajiv has developed a vast international network, travelling regularly to China, where he has promoted Indian black teas and milk teas at the big International China Tea Expo in Beijing every fall since 2004.

Rajiv LochanDuring his travels Lochan has also made many friends in the USA, Canada and Europe including Joe Simrany from the Tea Association of the USA and Louise Roberge from the Canadian Tea Association and Mike Bunston from the International Tea Committee with whom he frequently exchanges views about producing and consuming country interests.

Tea is not only the core of his business life, but also behind Lochan’s personal commitments as an active sponsor of the only Christian school in Darjeeling, the Don Bosco School in Mirik. The Salesian fathers there educate children of poor tea garden workers. In Lochan’s office one can see a big portrait of father Luigi Jellicci, the Italian Salesian priest who founded the Don Bosco mission and school in Mirik and who was, according to Lochan, the most admirable human being he ever met.

When enjoying the privilege of touring his gardens you realize that Lochan knows so many of stories about the people and the places of significance in the tea business that you can’t help but ask: “Why would you not take the time to write this down?” The prompt answer is: ”Yes, already planned, my new tea trainee is a journalist from China who will arrive in mid 2011 to discuss such a project.”

In June Lochan attended the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas for the first time and found it a great experience; his next journey is a return to China. In line with Rajiv’s credo that to trade and to share tea all around the world is a fulfilling task indeed.

Barbara Dufrene is a former secretary general of the European Tea Committee (1992-2004) and French tea advisor. She publishes Tosses & Terroir in Paris, France and is a frequent contributor to World Tea News. Contact her at b-dufrene@orange.fr.