International Tea Day: How India's tea culture has evolved

New Delhi, May 21 (IANSlife) In India, one thread that binds us unequivocally as a nation, one ritual that truly symbolises 'unity in diversity is our love for tea. The tea culture in India has evolved with changing trends and preferences.

This International Tea Day, IANSlife spoke to Karan Shah, the fourth generation director of Society Tea who takes us on the journey of tea in India and its changing trends. He also speaks about the challenges faced by the industry and shares some myths and facts related to tea.

How do you think the tea culture has evolved in India? And where do you see it heading?

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Shah: With the changing times we have seen the palates of Indians develop too, implying an alteration in the tea market. From a regular and masala chai, to an elaichi, ginger, lemon and more -- one thing has, however, remained the same: people like to experiment and get innovative with their steaming cups of invigorating chai. Moreover, there is a strong inclination towards healthy and immunity boosting green teas and the chilled yet refreshing iced teas.

But with the changing trends, do you think the traditional tea is losing its importance?

Shah: The love for 'traditional tea' is undeniable all across India. Although there has been a shift in the tea culture of the country , one thing we are witness to is the fact that love for traditional taste of tea, the household favourite blend of the aromatic Indian spices- the masala chai is always going to stay.

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A study conducted by the Tea Board of India revealed some interesting consumption patterns among Indian tea drinkers:

About 80 percent tea drinkers in India consume it either with or before breakfast

The eastern states of India especially West Bengal have a remarkably high tea consumption when compared to North, West or South India

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Tea is regularly consumed in about 64 percent of homes in India and by 96 percent of the family members residing therein

More than 80 percent Indians prefer their tea with added milk

About 70 percent of Indians prefer buying tea from local grocery stores

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While these have been true for India as a market, we have observed some shifts picking up in the country. Two major trend for the coming year are rise in Premix Teas and Herbal blends.

Premix Teas: There was a time when premixes suffered from a bad image, labelled as an unhealthy alternative to traditional tea. However, there has been a complete shift in perception. The market for instant premix tea has grown at a healthy rate since 2011. While the most popular flavours in the market is masala, other blends include lemongrass, ginger lemongrass etc.

Herbal blends: While green tea now enjoys good awareness levels and is fast catching up, herbal blends are on a rapid rise too. Teas infused with flavours of ginger, tulsi, mulethi, stinging nettle tea etc. are known to boost immunity, fight against cancerous cells and soothe throat troubles. Not just this, but a warm cup of tea will help you fight against cavities, which is great for your oral health.

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What challenges is the tea industry facing at present?

Shah: Tea is a natural product and there are a lot of factors involved - like the health of the bush, the natural light etc. These factors are major contributor that bring about variations in taste, blends, liquor etc. As a brand or for any tea player, the biggest challenge will always be to stabilise these factors and give consistent taste & quality of the product.

Tell us some myths and facts about tea?

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Shah: There have been numerous myths surrounding tea, one of which is tea is dehydrating. Tea is actually diuretic which means it helps in water retention. Also there is a misconception that green tea, black tea, white tea come from different tea buds. They all are a result of different levels of processing.

Share some details of your #StayAtHome campaign.

Shah: We at Society Tea have always been subtly invested in our duty towards society and as India experiences social distancing we have recently launched our visually appealing #StayAtHome campaign. Celebrating India's unique tea drinking culture, we borrowed poignant shots from our human interest photo series titled 'Tea Society Called India', illustrating all those small moments in the day, wherein people come together to brew a delightful experience over a cup of chai.

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We aim to encourage people that until such a time is back, let's not only #StayAtHome #StayIndoors #StaySafeAtHome and grab a cup of Society Tea and look forward to enjoying these moments with our friends, family and close ones.

Society tea has come up with the second episode of its musical web series 'Sounds of Society'. Please share some details of it.

Shah: Music being an integral part of our lives, has the power of bringing together people across borders, just the way tea does. #SoundsOfSociety is a genre-free, no-rules, and an all-inclusive approach to presenting music-making and its associated performing arts. It features musicians and their grassroots approach to making music, in an entirely collaborative format season.

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With Sounds of Society: Season 2, we aim at bringing soulful melodies by collaborating with versatile artistes. It is produced by Urban Beat Project and curated by Laiq Qureshi, and features Woodnote, a saxophonist, composer and producer hailing from Bristol, the UK, accompanied by Bellatrix, a fast rising singer-songwriter, who also happens to be a professional bassist and former world beat boxing champion, having brewed an exceptional arrangement titled, 'Sugar On My Sweets'. Both musicians are no strangers to spontaneity, and are known for creating intricate structures on the fly. What you hear is absolutely unpractised, and showcases their versatility and sheer genius both, as a musician and as a producer.

Your expansion plans?

Shah: We have diversified into the category of chutneys and pickles, available in delightful variants, recreating the magical taste of grandmother's secret recipes bringing back the taste of tradition for new-age consumers, under the name Spice Secrets.

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We have also ventured into the category of Dairy products, offering skimmed milk powder, desi ghee and dairy white, an instant dairy whitener. With the vision of serving our customers right we are determined to improvise and adapt with the changing trends.

(Puja Gupta can be contacted at puja.g@ians.in)

--IANS

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