Most of India wakes up every morning with a steaming cup of kadak chai. Tea is the subcontinent’s favourite beverage and until recently, we preferred it strong, milky and sweet.
Now, a growing number of tea connoisseurs and importers are adding new infusions to the nation’s beloved brew and many city cafes are pairing food with exotic teas like rhododendron and rose hip, brought from halfway across the globe, on their monsoon menus. This is a big, almost revolutionary, change for Indians, who have been attached to traditional chai. Indeed, tea tasters say a growing number of us are opening ourselves to experimenting with different varieties of tea and are treating it as a gourmet drink... to be gently savoured.
Tea sommelier Snigdha Manchanda believes much of the credit for the opening up of the specialty tea segment goes to wine sommeliers. “They gave people a reference point to understand what a tea sommelier would do,” she says.
Tea connoisseur Sudha Kukreja reasons that growing health awareness has had much to do with the growing redisovery of tea. “We were never a coffee drinking nation, it was just marketed very well,” she says. “Today people want to cut down on caffeine in the coffee and go back to green or white tea — nature’s best antioxidant.”
Industry figures establish our legendary love for tea. An ORG India study in 2008 found that 83% of Indian households consume tea. According to the North East Tea Association, the country’s annual tea consumption, which stands at 815 million kg, far surpasses the annual coffee consumption of 108 million kg. Research also pegs per capita tea consumption at 730 gms while coffee consumption is just 75 gms.
Mohit Khattar, MD, Godrej Nature’s Basket, who organises tea appreciation seminars across the country, says, “We noticed that people who were travelling across the globe were coming back with newer tea blends but didn’t know how to brew them perfectly. Also, there were requests for health drinks.”
Anamika Singh, tea sommelier says, “There are various tea combinations that can enhance the dining experience. A green tea had with sharp cheese mellows the flavour while a chamomile tea post dinner puts you to a deep sleep.” Restaurants who are introducing tea menus claim that the trend is a hit. Subhashish Gupta, f&b manager, TCB lounge says, “We have an afternoon menu dedicated to rare teas and scones.”Manchanda says, "I get queries about how to brew a white tea, an oolong, or how to mix vanilla pods in the fresh tea infusion for that perfect rainy day accompaniment. This shows that tea culture is getting refined."