The morning cuppa is no more just chai: for on offer are niche teas beautifully blended with a variety of fruits, herbs, spices and more by a new breed of tea connoisseurs
Being one of the largest tea producers we have had a history of its consumption dating back to thousands of years but it’s only in recent years that we are experimenting with tea flavours and witnessing a spurt in the number of those who swear by their tea.
Niche brands are making their presence felt with varieties of tea that range from flower flavoured to that of fruits. Sumit Shah, executive director, Madhu Jayanti International Limited which has a niche tea brand by the name, Te-A-Me, shares “Consumers are showing a strong preference for green tea and flavoured/herbal teas. While they still consume their usual quantities of black tea, they are adding additional consumption moments throughout the day, substituting alternate beverages for healthier tea based drinks.”
Niche teas are known for the blends they offer. This is what sets them apart from the regular teas. The trend for green tea is catching momentum but then the canvas for tea is much wider than that. Neetu Sarin of Tea of Life talks of her personal experience, “Creating tea blends is a very creative process. I blend it with flowers, fruits, herbs, etc. It doesn't always work and it takes a lot of time and effort to get it right. Keeping tea as its base the ingredients are added to give a subtle aroma and also enhance its health benefits.”
Take a look at the people who are in the business of offering niche teas and you are likely to find a common thread binding them together and that is their personal affiliation to tea since childhood. Anamika Singh, the young and dynamic woman behind Anandini Himalaya Tea shares, “My father breathes tea and from him I feel it is ingrained in my blood.”
Tea Trunk’s Snigdha Manchanda too attributes the inception of her brand to her father. She pulls a page from her journey, “My father was posted in Assam and in the early 90’s brought me a pack of green tea that opened up my world.” Manchanda’s passion for tea led her to collect teas in her trunk since her teenage days and currently her tea treasure includes over 100 exotic and rare teas and blends from around the word. And this precious treasure went on to became her inspiration to start Tea Trunk, a boutique Tea Consultancy. Tea Trunk has grown from the initial offering of six teas in 2013 to 12 flavours.
For Neetu Sarin from the brand, Tea of Life, it was during her stay in the Europe that she got to regularly have tea and it was here that she was introduced to green tea. “It was love at first sip! Ever since then it has been a passion to try new teas and to learn about every aspect of this amazing beverage. Travelling to
tea gardens in different parts of the world was another amazing experience.”
Rohit Sharma’s Simply Natural has its inception dating back to his teenage years when he saw himself getting attracted to teas from across the country. He shares, “Since the age of 16 I have been attracted to enjoying different teas. This hobby gradually grew more intense and later became my profession.” Simply Natural’s Organic Himalayan Tea is an orthodox black tea and claims to be the only tea in India being organically grown at 7k ft and above sea level in a pristine environment.
Niche teas are known for the blends they offer setting them apart from the regular teas. Picking out the star performers from her portfolio, Manchanda shares, “A few that are very well received are Marigold Green Tea, Long Island Green Tea and Saffron Kahwa Green Tea.”
Singh talks about Anandini, “Many of my clients love the First Flush, Lavender and Lemon Grass while many friends who work in the corporate world swear by the Green tea, Chamomile and Rose-hop.”
She adds, “I have had customers coming back to me through references looking for that particular Tea that smells like bacon, some say it brings in memories of childhood and bonfire. I love the fact when customers who have always had chai as a part of their daily routine and never tea without sugar and milk, come to take part in my tea appreciation workshop and switch from having chai to 6 to 7 cups of Anandini.”
Anamika has an impressive portfolio to offer besides a cosy sit-in boutique – Resonance.T by Anandini. Gleefully she shares, “Here we serve pots of tea with sunshine and happiness, bites of cakes and croissant to compliment the elixir of life but not to overshadow it yet giving them a space to pair the teas with chocolate, cheese, nuts and fruits all of it designed, the space, the menu by my mentor, Anil Abhimanyu Sharma based in Paris.”
Just like food choices vary amongst different regions in India, choice of tea, which is largely a “taste preference” also undergoes substantial changes in preferences across the country. As Shah points out, “South India and part of West India prefer to consume the “dust” variety of tea which has smaller grains. Similarly, North Indians are more skewed to consuming Masala and Ginger tea, along with an occasional cup of Kahwa tea during the winter months. South Indian consumers prefer the Cardamom flavour in their teas while West India has an affinity towards Masala. An antithesis to the preferences of North, South and West India, East Indian consumers are heavily skewed to the Darjeeling variety of teas, while the rest of the country prefers teas from the valley of Assam. Further, consumers in South India are more prone to “experimentation” with new flavours than the rest of the country.”
Elaborating on the changing dynamics, Singh reveals that till a few years ago, people just knew Darjeeling, Assam, Mint, Earl Grey, Tulsi Tea though now things are changing. People want to know which estate their tea comes from, whether it is natural or has artificial essence. People are keen to know how to infuse, how water makes a difference, what are the various flowers and herbs that can benefit if added to tea.
Sarin reiterates saying, “Initially when I started Tea of Life people’s tastes were more conservative. So they preferred known tastes like Spice Route, La Vie en Rose and Ming Dynasty. But gradually people are very willing to try new taste experiences. Casablanca Nights, Blue Jade and Double Happiness are quite popular right now. ”
Inspite of all the glory and nicheness associated with it, unfortunately, there are not many tea cafes that India can boast but for the handful which include Passion – My Cup of Tea (Delhi); Tapri (Jaipur); Infinitea, Chaipatty and Chai Point (all in Bengaluru); Tea Centre and Cha Bar from the house of Apeejay Group that is a part of all the company owned stores of Oxford Bookstore in Mumbai).
Usually, it is up to one how s/he drinks his/her tea. But according to tea connoisseurs enjoying the brew without adding anything is the best way to have one’s chai.
• Tea of Life: Casablanca Nights with Morrocan Mint and Orange; Gulmohur with heady aromas of rose petals, jasmine buds, hibiscus petals and
marigold; Double Happiness which has vanilla pods and Chinese Chrysanthemums
• Anandini Himalaya Tea: Pine wood smoked Tea; Dusk in the Woods; First Flush infused with Lavender Flowers and Lemon Grass
• Tea Trunk: Marigold Tea; Long Island Green Tea;Saffron Kahwa Green Tea
• Simply Natural: Himalaya Black Tea