the hindu business line  |  DECEMBER 05, 2016  |  By: Metroplus


Which is the champagne of teas? Do you know your tea’s is almost like wine. Would you like winter-frost white tea? Or tea laced with marigold flowers? Would you rather sip on a summer...

Which is the champagne of teas? Do you know your tea’s is almost like wine. Would you like winter-frost white tea? Or tea laced with marigold flowers? Would you rather sip on a summer oolong or an autumn oolong? Or would you rather curl up and breathe in aromas of a jasmine-infused black tea laced with rose petals, cornflower and cardamom? Teabox, a four-year-old startup, has been selling fresh tea — single estate teas, blends, loose leaf teas — about 250 varieties of them from 150 estates in India and Nepal, to over 95 countries. India ranks third among its customers, after the U.S.A. and Russia. “Indians don’t realise that like the fruits and vegetables they buy and eat, even tea has to be fresh! After all, it’s an agricultural product,” is the argument Teabox founder and CEO Kaushal Dugar puts forward. It is also the selling point for Teabox teas. “It takes between six to eight months for teas, once produced, to reach the consumer going through the chain of auctions, wholesaler, retailer. Our tea reaches you in a week from plucking; it is packed within 48 hours,” says Dugar, who divides his time between Siliguri (West Bengal) where their operations are based, and Bengaluru.

He says India figures third on his consumer list because “Our teas require a conversion of palette. Indians, at the end of the day, are chai people. It is only in the last few years that the health factor, and global exposure from travel has pushed Indians to explore other ‘pure’ teas.” He himself drinks chai - milky tea - every morning that he is habituated to, and then a cup of black; but on average he tastes about 20 cups a day at work, and in peak production time, about 200 a day. Having grown up on tea estates because his entire extended family was in the business, Kaushal later studied and worked in Singapore as a corporate finance analyst and strategy consultant at KPMG. But when he wanted to do something different, he found himself returning to what he knew best. “The tea industry in India hasn’t changed much in the last 150 years. There is not a single brand from India that has made it big abroad.” On board their panel are fifth generation tea planters with experience, food technologists from CFTRI, and blending experts. Teabox is one of the few places where you’ll be able to shop by type, region, flavour, collection, flush and season. Teas are sourced from Darjeeling, Assam, Nepal, Nilgiris, Kangra, and the north-eastern states of India. “My family has been in the tea business for 70 years. Their site offers the largest collection of single-estate teas in the world — around 190 — claims Dugar. “On our site we share the name of the estate the tea came from, the date it was plucked, the lot number, certifications, tasting notes, ideal steeping time...” He says estates would rather sell to them than export because they offer a better price and give estates brand visibility. “Some of these estates are over 200 years old and we tell you their stories too.” Nepal is just next to Darjeeling, with the same altitude and weather. It is just that Darjeeling is more famous,” is how he explains why Nepal teas find a prominent place in their collections. “Our consumers are largely tea connoisseurs who’ve been drinking their Assams and Darjeelings for over 40 years, and much like wine connoisseurs, they know what they want,” he says. And for those who don’t, Teabox is now hosting tea appreciation sessions; Bengaluru has seen three such happen. They’ve opened a small retail counter at Cinnamon in Bengaluru. Some of their teas are organic, some are Fairtrade certified as well. These speciality and gourmet teas are now becoming mainstream, he concedes. “We don’t use any artificial flavours. Even the flowers and spices we use in the teas are all natural.” They’ve also been able to identify flavour preferences the world over — lighter fruity and flowery blends work well in Japan, but not in Russia, he points out. Almost 50 per cent of Indians are now hung up on green tea or full-bodied Darjeeling teas. We, predictably, like our tea strong. Of the total tea consumption in the world, almost 90 per cent is in the form of teabags, he says. And this is a region they have innovated in, by creating the TeaPac. “Air is the number one enemy of tea, specially moisture in air. Vacuum sealing teabags would crush the delicate tea leaves so we figured we could nitrogen flush pack it to retain the tea’s freshness.” So each teabag is individually puff-packed like your chips. The teabags themselves are large airy pyramid shaped and made from biodegradable nylon allowing for the leaves room to fully unfurl and give out flavour. Loose teas are priced between Rs. 6,000 a kilo up to Rs. 1.2 lakh. The TeaPacs are sold in boxes of 16 teabags for Rs. 240. Did you know? *All teas come from the same tea plant -- whether it’s black, green, white or oolong tea. The way the leaves are processed is what gives them their character *Most tea plants are referred to as “Chinary” teas because they were initially smuggled into India from China. *Research has ensured that many hybrid varieties have entered the tea space, and these are referred to as “clonal” teas. *The Nilgiris region is famous for its winter teas, Assam for summer teas (summer teas are more astringent), Darjeeling for spring and summer teas (spring teas are more fruity and lighter), and the whole of north-east India offers spring and summer teas. The perfect cuppa... You don’t grab tea. You look forward to it, for a couple of hours at least, says Kaushal Dugar. And here are some tea brewing tips from him -- simple infusion works well for all teas. You can control the temperature and steeping time, so the tea will be of the strength you desire. Step 1: Heat water to desired temperature. Ensure the water isn’t boiling as very high temperatures can easily destroy the delicate notes in the tea. Place the tea leaves in a infuser. Step 2: Pour the hot water over the tea leaves until they are submerged. Step 3: Let it steep for the recommended time. Take care not to over-steep. Step 4: Remove the tea leaves. Pour into a cup and enjoy. You can at this point sweeten your tea with sugar, cream or honey. Or add a dash of lemon juice or mint for that extra flavour. “Try it plain once; you'll be surprised how many layers are there to a cup of tea,” adds Dugar. .