Mana Organics & Sustainability: ‘Not Just High-Quality, Ethical, Organic Teas’

Tea pluckers at Chota Tingrai Tea Estate in India. Photo: Courtesy of Mana Organics.

Mana Organics – based in Kolkata, West Bengal, India, with its North American warehouse in St. Louis, Mo. – is an innovator in organic tea practices and green tea manufacturing. The tea company, led by fourth-generation tea grower, Avantika Jalan, was started because Jalan wanted her family’s tea gardens to be models of sustainability for the industry. “We are not just high-quality, ethical, organic teas,” explains Jalan. “We are high-quality, ethical, sustainable teas, as well.”

Fourth-generation tea grower Avantika Jalan, founder and managing director, Mana Organics. Photo: Courtesy of Mana Organics.

While Mana Organics began in 2011, the company has a rich tea history with Jalan’s family background. In fact, the company’s story truly begins with her family’s three tea estates: Chota Tingrai, Dinjoye and Durrung. The Chota Tingrai and Dinjoye tea estates are in the Tinsukia district of Assam, India, and both tea gardens were originally planted by Jalan’s great-grandfather, Mr. Murleidor Jalan, in 1943. Her family acquired the Durrung Tea Estate – located near Tezpur – in 2018. That estate is also steeped in tea history, as it’s one of the oldest British tea estates in India, established in 1865.

“Together, our tea estates are home to 1,700 families, and we are very committed to ensuring that these families have a livelihood, healthcare and education for their children,” says Jalan. “It is out of this commitment to our worker communities that I founded Mana Organics as a vehicle for bringing new ideas and management techniques to make the industry sustainable.”

Chota Tingrai Tea Estate, as pictured from a drone. Photo: Courtesy of Mana Organics.

Mana Organics’ Three Sustainability Goals
According to Jalan, Mana Organics works towards three sustainability goals: environmental, social and financial. To improve the environment, the company provides knowledgeable consulting, expertise and keen management of its organic tea gardens. “We target improvement in soil fertility and plant health through organic nutrition,” explains Jalan.

Mana Organics and Jalan have also converted more than 100 hectares of tea (or a third of their estate) at Avantika’s family’s tea estate, Chota Tingrai, to be certified organic, and they continue to convert sections every year. “All organic sections managed by Mana Organics are free of any chemical use,” she says. “We encourage biodiversity of the ecosystem that helps maintain the natural balance. Our pest management is integrated with several physical traps, natural predators and bio-controls that help eliminate pests without disturbing the natural biodiversity.”

Overall, Mana Organics and its tea estates believe in a fully integrated, closed-loop farming system that makes them more sustainable. All of their organic inputs are generated from waste or produced within their estate. “We integrate waste management and natural resource management to produce more than 100 tons of compost every season,” Jalan says.

Mana Organics also encourages the planting of trees at its tea estates, as a way to replace those used as fuel by its partner tea worker communities. “We plant green manuring plants to increase soil fertility,” shares Jalan. “And we make several tons of vermicompost annually to increase soil carbon content and microbial activity in the soil.” Where Mana Organics has done the most innovation is incorporating its local community’s waste management system into its organic input production, and the use of local herbs to make organic sprays that repel pests.

Beyond Organic
Mana Organics is also an innovator beyond organic practices. The company works to bring new equipment and practices to Assam tea. For example, their green tea factory at the Chota Tingrai Tea Estate is the first of its kind in India, with all machinery and techniques developed in partnership with Japanese experts. Additionally, they are currently experimenting with Japanese tea planting practices to see if they can increase yields.

“While Mana Organics was born out of organic tea practices, we have moved beyond that,” notes Jalan, who points out that they produce more organic inputs than their certified organic sections require. “We use these extra inputs in our noncertified tea gardens to create a hybrid system, reducing our chemical use but still having access to conventional sprays and fertilizers when needed,” she says. “As a result, these hybrid teas end up being more sustainable and safer than your typical conventional teas.”

Socially, Mana Organics believes that they can only be sustainable if all our their stakeholders have equal rights and opportunities; thus, they work toward bringing socio-economic development for their worker communities. “We train and develop local talent and encourage them to join our management team,” says Jalan.

Currently, all of Mana Organics’ field supervisors come from their local worker community, and they also employ supplemental teachers to provide extracurricular education activities to workers’ children. The company also expanded its sales operations to North America to achieve financial sustainability for all of its workers. “By selling directly in North America, we can deliver high quality tea at a better price for both the customer and us, and bring back those extra proceeds to support the work on the tea estates,” says Jalan.

Wholesale Tea Offerings
Mana Organics offers a full range of Assam black teas, both orthodox and CTC. This includes small batches of the popular Assam golden tippy tea, available in large quantities of tea bag grades. They also have a green tea factory at their Chota Tingrai tea estate.

tea conversation around a tea withering trough at Dinjoye Tea Estate. Photo: Courtesy of Mana Organics.

All of the company’s machinery has been imported from Japan, allowing them to make Sencha-style tea instead of the pan fry tea you typically find in India. “This allows us to create a unique green tea with strong umami flavors and robust mouthfeel, says Jalan. “And of course, all the teas we carry are available in both organic and sustainable.”

John Gram, co-founder and president of Mana USA, Mana Organics’ North American partner company, says wholesale customers can purchase their teas in two ways. “We can send them directly to you from our family tea estates,” he says. “This includes single cartons of small batch premium teas up to 40ft containers. This gives you the quality and savings, as if you went to India to choose your teas yourself. We can also organize all shipping and customs entry, freeing you to focus on sales and growth instead of logistics headache. Or we can send you teas from our warehouse.”

Tea factory floor. Photo: Courtesy of Mana Organics.

Mana Organics warehouse in the United States provides the opportunity for smaller customers to buy the same quality of teas as buyers who can afford entire sourcing divisions. It also provides an additional level of inventory security to larger buyers, if they under forecast their purchase, so they have access to additional tea inventory to supplement. “We pack all our warehouse teas in vacuum sealed cartons, which keeps them as fresh as the day they were packed in the garden,” says Gram.

Jalan adds, “With Mana Organics, you get the benefits of direct sourcing – fresher teas at better prices that support a sustainable relationship with the environment and labor – with the ease of doing business with a North American based company.”

To learn more about Mana Organics or to inquire about wholesale purchases, visit ManaOrganics-USA.com.