Up until a few years ago, not many would associate their daily cup of tea with descriptions like hand-blended, artisanal, or including exotic flavour notes like marigold and Kashmiri saffron. After all, Indians’ definitive relationship with tea for the last several decades has largely been restricted to the mass-produced, overly sweet, milky variety – the ubiquitous cup of chai we know so well.
That’s slowly changing, and it’s thanks to a clutch of artisanal brands that are taking the country’s tea-growing legacy forward with innovative, handcrafted blends, exotic ingredients, and introducing discerning consumers to a variety of leaves, often sourced and made in India. Positioned in the premium end of the market, these brands are firmly putting artisanal Indian teas on the map.
Take the case of Delhi-based Radhika Chopra, who founded No.3 Clive Road, to address the gap for quality, artisanal Indian teas. “There wasn’t an Indian tea brand that could stand up to luxury standards around the world – in terms of quality and packaging,” points out Chopra. “We thought, why not tap into this opportunity to rethink the way we drink tea and introduce some of our country’s finest teas to the world?”
The last few years have seen a jump in the number of such brands foraying into the market, although luxury teas still constitute a niche. Gifting is one of the biggest segments for such brands – be it weddings or corporate gifts. Not to mention, owing to their low caffeine content, wellness and health-related benefits. For those looking for something unique, brands often create custom blends to suit a particular occasion or event.
Ambarish Ghosh, director, The Hillcart Tales, a recent entrant in the premium tea market, points out that consumers are more appreciative of specialty teas today, especially if one has a differentiated product. “We wanted our patrons to enjoy the entire tea-drinking experience, as it should be,” says Ghosh. “So, we’ve tried to experiment with flavours, nuances, aromas and bespoke packaging to create a product that fits into their evolving lifestyles.”
Moreover, it is the emphasis on quality, taste, and the fact that these blends are crafted by hand, usually in small batches, that’s made artisanal teas popular, offers Snigdha Manchanda, tea sommelier and founder of Tea Trunk, a gourmet tea brand. “For instance, our teas are sourced directly from seven tea gardens in Assam, Darjeeling, and the Nilgiris, while our matcha is sourced directly from Japan. Each of our ingredients is sourced individually either from farms or farmer co-operatives within India,” she notes.
Increasingly, exotic artisanal teas are making their way into craft cocktails, desserts, and much more, owing to their versatile flavour profiles. Brands believe the potential for growth is certainly there, especially as consumer tastes evolve. “People’s interest in different kinds of tea is growing. However, the pace of growth is still slow and it’s a small audience we are talking to. Even in the luxury segment, at some level, we are still competing with chai,” says Manchanda.
We round-up of some of the well-known artisanal tea brands in India.
Specialising in exquisite, hand-blended teas with packaging that evokes a touch of nostalgia, the brand offers a range of blends and classic teas. These include Madurai Masala, which is their signature blend, as well as Aurangzeb, a classic Assam tea with hints of cardamom, jasmine and marigold, evocative of the Mughal era.
Founded in 2016, this Mumbai-based artisanal tea brand sources its tea leaves and exotic ingredients from around the world, including Taiwan, China, and Sri Lanka, as well as India. These are often mixed in with flowers, dehydrated fruits, and natural flavours to create different blends. TGL Co. offers 34 teas including their signature, Mogo Mogo, which is a blend of passion flowers, banana, mango, and melon. The strawberries & cream black tea and Kashmiri saffron kahwa are other popular variants.
This Kolkata-based premium tea brand was launched last year by a family with over five generations in the tea trade business. Their range of dessert teas are a signature, with blends like apple strudel, lemon cake, tiramisu, blood orange, among others. Choose from 32 variants of teas, including eight loose leaf varieties.
Established in 1990 in Los Angeles, USA, Chado came to India in 2008. They define their brand name as ‘the way of tea’, and have sought to revolutionise how people approach tea over the years. Supporting this endeavour is their range of over 300 premium loose leaf teas from across the world, helping the drinker go beyond that usual cup of chai. Among their offerings are black, oolong, green, white, yellow, herbal, and the must-try Pu-erh – the fermented tea from the eponymous city in China is a rare one and gets better with age.
Tea sommelier Snigdha Manchanda founded Tea Trunk upon seeing the lack of rare, exotic teas she would often blend in small batches for herself. Signature blends include, marigold green tea, pista kesar green tea, and saffron kahwa green tea.
Superior quality specialty teas is the mainstay of this second generation tea business. Founded by Anamika Singh, the single blends are sourced from her family’s Manjhee Valley Tea Estate. Their infusions feature detoxifying, calming, rejuvenating, digestive, and de-stressing teas. The Emerald Spices helps soothe the body and mind, and is made of clove, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and orange marigold flowers. The Fairytale has Autumn Black Tea, cornflower, rhododendron flowers, chamomile, and berries, and makes for a leisurely cup. Other than loose leaf, they do tea bags in muslin cloth, to keep the freshness of the product alive.
All images: Courtesy brand websites