The story of Lekali coffee follows the story of a Sherpa family - how an ethical approach and traditional values have shaped a business model that has the potential to transform agriculture in Nepal. The word “Lekali” means highland or mountains – and that’s where this story begins. Mingma Dorji Sherpa, founder of Lekali Coffee Estate and established tour operator, is the son of the late Pasang Phutter Sherpa, who accompanied the legendary Tenzing Norgay Sherpa on the historic 1953 Everest Expedition.
Fast forward to 2008 and the people of Nepal had just experienced a decade of intense internal conflict and were now faced with the prospect of recovery. The conflict led to a sharp reduction in exports, manufacturing and tourism services. At the time Tenzing's father was visiting him in the US and expressed his concerns over the political situation in Nepal and the effect on people’s livelihoods. Mingma was running a boutique lodge as well as the family trekking company but relying solely on tourism was risky due to the instability caused by the conflict. This led Mingma to do some research into potential cash crops he could cultivate in Nepal – which would ultimately lead him to coffee.
The seeds for the project were planted figuratively and literally. On Tenzing's return to Nepal, he began going into the fields, talking with the farmers and getting a feel for what this endeavour will look like. After a few months of getting to know the local community and their lands, Lekali Coffee Estate purchased their first farmlands for the purposes of coffee production.It was a tough beginning, with many institutions wary of investing in a project that was perceived as only for the pursuit of economic interests. So Tenzing took it upon himself to do everything – from seed to the nursery. He stayed at the farm throughout the learning process which was one of trial and error.
After our first harvest, we realised that Nepali coffee cannot and should not be commoditised. If coffee from Nepal was to have its own place in the global market, it was the quality that ought to be honed. This is the point where Tenzing gravitated more towards quality control. Tenzing studied his plants meticulously and taught his farmers to do the same. Their efforts were recognised in 2018 when our coffee was awarded 90 points by the prestigious coffee review website.