Give it a chai? Rare teas are making inroads as tasting shots, tiny batches
It’s a good time to be in a relationship with tea. Milky, too-sweet chai continues to have fans, but a new category of tea lovers is emerging. They like their leaves full, their flavours subtle and their blends from estates around the world. This is tea without the pakoras, without dunking biscuits and without masala.
Fruit and flower brews are finding fans in big cities. For those who think tea is bitter, tannic or unpalatable, sites and stores are chasing away that misconception, sip by sip. And for the undecided, an unfamiliar brew is available in as little as a 50-gm serving – good for a few experimental cups.
“There is a whole world of fancy teas to explore now,” says Razi Khan, director of sales and marketing at UK-based Typhoo tea. “You can avail single cups, small portions of everything exotic.”
Oolong way forward
Ranjana Sethi, 26, an insurance advisor from Parel, recalls the days when she had to wait for August each year to get oolong teas by the kilo from her engineer brother in China. “I would cherish the tie guan yin oolongs for months,” she says. “I’d also gift them to relatives.”
Sethi no longer waits for those shipments. She gets her oolong fix from the San-cha tea boutique in Kala Ghoda. “The tea tastes the same, I can order it in small quantities as per my requirement and there are no shipping charges,” she says with a laugh.
At Teabox, an online marketplace for tea sellers, a single-estate oolong from Arunachal Pradesh is among 250 teas on offer. The site offers information on how Private Reserve Donyi Polo looks and tastes and how to brew it and how many cups it will make. You could try a 4-cup sample for as little as Rs 99. Gopal Upadhyay, head of the procurement team, knows that there is interest in tea but many people need a little handholding to understand new varieties. His site offers a “small, fun” questionnaire. “We ask questions like what is your favourite fruit, and suggest you a tea based on your answers,” he says.
Matching up to matcha
Even among tea lovers, mossy green matcha takes some getting used to. It’s powdered form of specially processed Japanese green tea, and unlike filtered brews, you consume the whole powdered leaf, taking in more nutrients.
Suhail Kapur, a tea taster and marketing manager at San-cha, remembers how hard it was to find in India.
“It was only when our relatives or friends would visit Japan that they would bring back matcha for us,” he says. His store now stocks the rare tea, as does Tea Culture of the World (TCW), and a few other retailers. You can buy as little as 25 grams.
“It is a ceremonial tea in Japan,” says Rupali Ambegaonkar, CEO at TCW. “A cup will cost you around Rs 20.”
Vari-e-tea from around the world
At The Good Life Company’s (TGLC) outlet in Sofitel, BKC, you sample teas in shot glasses before buying. Co-founder Bhuman Dani will explain where each tea comes from and what goes into each blend.
“Geisha is a mix of Chinese sencha, Chinese bancha and Japanese kukicha , all rare and not commonly available in India,” he explains.
Alisha D’costa, 22, a student from Bandra tried TGLC’s teas at the AKA Bistro in Kala Ghoda. She was intrigued by the fruits and berries they contained.
“Their Shou Mei tea which is Chinese white tea, for instance, has notes of mango and pineapple,” she says. The restaurant also stocks oolongs with bits of dried mango and orange, perfect for beginners.
“There are customers who like to see the tea before it is brewed, so we have samples,” says owner Aditya Agrawal.
Radhika Shah, founder of Radhika’s fine teas brand takes small groups for home stays in premium gardens of the world.
“We also offer you a Turkish tisane with dry apples, pomegranates, lemons, lime, oranges and apricots,” she says. “There is more to a leaf than just chai or green, you get to learn a lot about fine teas from around the world at our tasting sessions, tea trails and appreciation parties.”
Does the idea of tea made with microbial fermentation sounds gross? Fermented tea from China’s Pu’er region, relatively unheard of in India, is fast finding fans.
“It was considered a medicinal tea before it became a mandatory drink at social gatherings,” says Kapur.
Pu Erh is available at TGL teas, Sancha tea boutique and TCW and is also a part of the vast tea menu at Yauatcha, a restaurant in Bandra-Kurla Complex.
“A tea pot of green pu erh costs Rs 295, which works out to Rs 36 a cup,” says Abhishek Bindal, assistant vice-president of operations at the restaurant.