Stephen H B Twining, the 10th-generation descendant of the Twinings tea-making family, is an unimpeachable brand ambassador. It was early afternoon and he was already on his 12th cup.
"My usual daily intake is about 15 cups, so I’m a little ahead of myself, but tea drinking is a huge passion with me," he said.
Twining, director of the British company which opened the first tea shop in London over 300 years ago, was in India to promote his range in a country where Twinings buys a lot of tea — but sells very little.
Twinings is seeking growth from India’s 1.2 billion people, whose tastes are becoming more upmarket and sophisticated.
“There’s huge potential for growth in places like India and China — throughout Asia,” Twining said.
Twinings is aiming at the upper end of the market by packaging each teabag in an air-tight individual envelope to keep the tea fresh for months.
At Rs 600 for a box of 100 bags, the price of one teabag is roughly equal to that of a freshly-made streetside cup. Twinings has 35% of India’s teabag business since it entered the country in 1997 — less than 1% of the company's global turnover.
Twining said the firm does “tweak its blends to suit local tastes”, but creating the perfect cup of tea is a tricky and capricious enterprise for varying national palates.
“Wine drinkers accept different years are of different quality but tea drinkers are a finickety lot — they want the flavour of their favourite cup of tea always to be the same,” he said.
Twining dismissed the notion that teabags are inferior to loose tea.
“Teabags do have an image problem,” he admitted. “But the tinier the leaves (in the teabag) the quicker flavours get released.”
To get the perfect cup, the teabag must brew for three minutes -- longer than most tea drinkers realise “so they aren't getting the best taste,” he says. Use a thin porcelain cup. And it is traditional to put the milk in first — though in the end there are no strict rules. “Don't add sugar in your tea — but if you like it sweet, forget that rule,” he said with a grin.