Tea, or chai, as the Indians lovingly call it, is more than a beverage; it is a warm cup of many emotions, an excuse to spend quality time with family, and for some, a great career option. India is the second-largest tea producer in the world (after China) and over the last five years, we have seen many homegrown brands enter the premium tea market.
On the first UN-recognised International Tea Day today, we speak with one of the first certified woman Tea Sommeliers in India, Snigdha Manchanda, 36, who is also the proud owner of Goa-based Tea Trunk, a gourmet tea label founded in 2015.
How did you become a tea specialist?
I grew up collecting teas from friends and family members, who would bring me tea as souvenirs from different countries such as Egypt, Greece, Kenya, South Africa, Japan, China and Russia. I used to store them in my dad’s old trunk. Later, I decided to study tea professionally and chose to specialise in tea blending as I was really interested in its different flavour profiles.
In 2011, I enrolled at a tea academy in Sri Lanka and trained under Japanese tea master Nao Kumekawa. My exposure to that country and the global repute of its famous Dilmah tea greatly inspired me. That’s what I plan to do with Tea Trunk. I want it to be a global brand.
What kinds of teas does Tea Trunk have?
One of the most interesting blends we crafted was the Chocolate Earl Grey, in collaboration with Pondicherry-based Mason & Co chocolate; we used their leftover roasted cacao shells to infuse its flavour into our Earl Grey tea.
One of our evergreen teas is Marigold lemongrass because of its very unique combination. We were the first ones to launch Saffron Kahwa. Traditionally, a Kashmiri Kahwa has almonds and saffron in it, but our kahwa blend has a touch of rose petals (rose has cooling properties), making it a perfect brew for every weather. Another bestseller is our Rose Oolong, with the rose sourced from Jaipur and the oolong tea from Darjeeling.
Where do you source your tea from?
Everything at Tea Trunk is locally sourced from within India. We primarily source teas from seven estates in Darjeeling and Assam and two estates in Nilgiris. Even our botanicals and herbs like chamomile and lavender come from Uttarakhand.
What is the right way of brewing tea?
The three most important factors to consider while brewing a cup of tea are – source of water, water temperature and brewing time. Always use freshly drawn water from a filtered source and never use hard water to brew your teas. It may turn out to be completely unpalatable.
Second, when you boil the water you must know what is the optimum water temperature for the kind of tea you are brewing. The last and most crucial step is taking note of how many minutes you brew the tea for. The thumb rule is the longer you brew, the stronger the tea tastes. Shorter brew makes a lighter cup.
Quick guide >> Black and Oolongs for 2 to 4 minutes. Green and White for 1 to 3 minutes. If you’re brewing tea for the first time, it’s best to brew for a shorter duration and taste. You can always put it back to brew it for longer.
Please share a few tea-based food recipes for readers to try at home.
Hibiscus Cold Brew Recipe:
● 4 tablespoons- Hibiscus Green Tea
● 1 Litre Room Temperature Water
● Fruit juice and sweetener, if desired
1. Infuse tea in room temperature water. Leave this infusion to stand for 8-10 hours or overnight.
2. The next morning, strain the tea leaves and refrigerate the tea concentrate. (It can be kept in the fridge for up to a week)
3. To make iced tea, add 60 ml of tea concentrate in a tall glass and top it with chilled water and ice cubes. Add honey or sweetener of your choice, if desired. Alternatively, you can add 30ml fruit juice and then top it up with water and ice.
Mango Matcha Chia Pudding:
● 1/4 cup Chia seeds
● 3/4 cup water or milk of your choice
● 1 tsp Tea Trunk Matcha ( We used Berry Matcha for this)
● 1 Mango (puréed)
● Chopped mango pieces and a sprig of mint for garnish
1. Using a whisk, mix together the chia seeds with the water/milk and the matcha powder. Set it aside in a bowl in the fridge.
2. Chop the mango and blend until smooth and creamy.
3. Add the mango puree to the bottom of a glass, followed by the chia pudding. Top with extra cubes of mango and a sprig of mint.
4. Serve and enjoy. You can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
How has the Indian tea consumer’s taste evolved over the years?
The palette of the Indian consumer is definitely evolving. While there is a small segment that still prefers pure tea, a majority of Tea Trunk customers are interested in different tea blends. For instance, people who were wary of trying matcha (finely milled powder of green tea leaves, traditionally consumed in East Asia) earlier are now more open to trying it. For Tea Trunk, I personally tasted 200 different matcha samples and picked the one that best suited the Indian palette; our matcha is not as astringent and has a lingering sweet after taste to it.
Tea Trunk was the first brand to launch Matcha blends in India – Berry Matcha, Cacao Matcha and Mint Matcha. We noticed that tea drinkers who were first hesitant to try pure matcha were more willing to taste something like a Berry Matcha flavour.
What do you have to say about PM Modi’s #vocalforlocal campaign?
I’d like to begin with an anecdote. Darjeeling tea comes from Darjeeling in India, but, I have had so many people telling me that they buy their Darjeeling tea from Harrods in London, which is actually sourced from India. We sell the same Darjeeling tea that is available at Harrods, but just because it does not have a tag of being an imported item, people don’t look at it as a credible one. I think this needs to change, especially keeping in mind the #vocalforlocal campaign. Customers usually feel that if a product has an imported tag and is bought from a place like London, it becomes more valuable. It has nothing to with the price tag or the people, it’s just a socio-cultural aspect that needs to change.
#Vocalforlocal is a great initiative and a paradigm shift, and this concept of conscious consumerism, and making conscious choices is very crucial right now. When you support Tea Trunk, you’re not just supporting a homegrown brand, but, the entire supply chain of its local vendors. We work with family-owned estates, farmers and farmer cooperatives.
Tea Trunk has been delivering its tea products even during the lockdown. What kind of challenges did you face?
Tea Trunk is headquartered in Goa, and fortunately, Goa did not have many cases and was declared a green zone. We resumed our shipping across India on April 03, and since then our customers have been sending us love notes, messages and are even tagging us on Instagram.
Currently, we’re working with one-third capacity of our team, with only the operations team going to the office for daily shipments. The rest of the support, customer and marketing teams are all working from home. We didn’t face any logistical issues, but, the deliveries are now taking longer; earlier, the delivery time to Mumbai was within 2 to 3 days, and now, since it is a red zone, it is taking us 5 to 10 days to ship the tea packages.
Last month, we also introduced a small initiative, where we created immunity tea bundles with turmeric tea and hibiscus tea. Every day for 15 days, we planned to ship 50 immunity bundles, absolutely free of cost. We got over 1000 sign-ups, and we are still shipping the packs as we couldn’t finish delivering it all in such a short period of time.
As an entrepreneur, what kind of challenges have you faced in the tea business?
As a solo woman founder, one of my biggest lessons has been about investing in building a rockstar team. As an entrepreneur, I understand that growing a brand is about teamwork and it is not one man’s job. When I first moved to Goa to set up my business, I remember some people telling me that it might not work out there. But, today at Tea Trunk, I have employees who have been with me since the start of the company, and more than 80 per cent of the team has been with me for over 3 years.
Please take us through your milestones.
At Tea Trunk, we have a list of our firsts. We were the first ones to launch matcha and matcha blends in India, back in 2016. We also have the first matcha latte tea mix scheduled to launch next month. As a brand, we are known for our product innovations – our tryst with various kinds of blends, hosting experiences like tea tasting workshops and masterclasses. We were also recently featured in CNN Traveler’s Top 25 Brands in India for world-class quality.
We also have a virtual tea party scheduled for which we are going to ship four tea samples in advance to the registered members. I think, I did enough virtual classes showing people how to brew tea blends, but with this tea party, everyone who signs up will be brewing and sipping tea together with me. There are so many people, friend groups and couples who have signed up for this.