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Reinventing tea time

India is finding new occasions to have tea, its favourite hot beverage, in exotic flavours and blends. Pooja Biraia writes.

business Updated: Jan 20, 2013 21:55 IST
Pooja Biraia
Pooja Biraia
Hindustan Times

When Ankur Sangam, 30, and Megha Purohit, 28, got married last month in Ahmedabad, a lavish tea counter, which attracted attention, was part of the wedding services.

"We had at least 30 varieties of flavoured tea on offer," said Purohit.

India's 'tea time' is getting reinvented, riding on weddings, corporate and private cocktail parties, art festivals and sporting events, specific tea tasting sessions and yoga and fitness centres.

Snigdha Manchanda Binjola, a Mumbai-based tea sommelier with her own blog site, Tea Trunk, talked of a recent tea tasting session she conducted: "It started at midnight and went on till noon the next day."

She also organises tea parties at weddings.

"Several couples tying the knot have approaching us to create a special custom tea blend to be served at their wedding and also small pouches of this signature tea to be gifted to the guests. A young girl wanted to create a signature blend for her boyfriend."

Tea is also occupying space at cocktail parties.

"We've served up some exotic tea cocktails such as vanilla black tea and rum, green tea marteanis, white tea Sangria and something as tangential as black tea lassi. Besides, after green tea's popularity, people are now turning to varieties such as white tea and oolong tea," Binjola said.

At cocktails, the idea of tea and accompaniments, very similar to wine and cheese, has found appeal, said Radhika Batra Shah, owner of 'Radhika's teas and whatnots', and a tea sommelier from Mumbai.

"While a lot of business houses fancy this idea, lately, even individuals have started developing a taste for cocktail teas at private parties."

Shah curated a tea ceremony at the derby during the AGP cup in Mumbai.

"It was a tea ceremony cum sampling session that took place over six hours. Themed 'The art of tea', it happened alongside an art exhibition at the Tao art gallery."

Flavoured and exotic teas have also entered college campuses.

"I was invited to Mood Indigo, IIT Bombay's annual fest, where IITans took to a fun, interactive tea appreciation class," said Shah.

At The Yoga House in Bangalore, a variety of teas including green and herbal teas are served as 'healthy beverages' to all members, for better health, said Maud Chuffart, director.

Tea-food pairings are also gaining traction. "Certain tea and food combos create a burst of flavours, such as a tea and cheese pairing, Assam tea with dark chocolate, and Darjeeling tea with cheddar cheese," Binjola explained.

"We even create tea infused foods - chicken curry with jasmine tea, biryani with black tea, green tea salad dressing and Earl Grey tea cookies."

Quirky mixes such as purple tea, lychee flower tea, pu'erh tea, rosemary tea, chocolate and rum tea are finding favour.

"It's a food and beverage revolution that people are happy to sample," Shah said.

Every month, she does over 10 tea ceremonies and sells 300-400 boxes of 100 gm teas.

"I witnessed the biggest growth in my business in the last one year."

Rasesh Vissanji, founder, Samskara Wellness, says three things have made the difference: the introduction of flavoured teas and Indian herbs-tea blends, newer tea occasions, and the impression of tea being a health tonic.

Raghav Gupta, distributor of Basilur Tea of SriLanka that has over 300 flavours, said, "Flavoured teas are finding more takers than plain teas. Also, while earlier the target group for flavoured teas were the upper end and upper middle class, it is now moving on to the aspiring middle class. Plus, demand for flavoured tea bags is growing over loose leaf teas. The branded tea industry is worth around Rs 6,000 crore and growing at 5%. The flavoured tea market will double in five years."

Sanjay Bansal, chairman, Ambootia Group, and president, Darjeeling Tea Association, agreed, saying, "Thought the speciality and flavoured tea quantities are still small, in the next five-10 years, they will be the main growth drivers."

First Published: Jan 20, 2013 21:05 IST