I pull up to a two-storeyed bungalow at the end of a breezy, tree-lined street, minutes away from my home in Goa. As I park my scooty outside, I wonder…
“What do I talk to her about?”
“What if she gives me some of that bitter tasting potion they call ‘green tea?’
“Why do healthy things taste so bad?”
Snigdha Manchanda is India’s first tea connoisseur. At 28, she founded ‘Tea Trunk,’ a gourmet tea label with signature blends that were unheard of in India. She is the empanneled author and spokesperson for the Tea Board of India and represents the Indian Tea Industry at conferences around the world. Snigdha has even pioneered the concept of ‘tea walks’ in Mumbai.
As she opens the door, she holds a long, transparent flask of tea that I eye suspiciously and we make our way upstairs to chat. We talk for a bit, on how she moved base from Mumbai to Goa and how I did the opposite. We talk about how there’s more to the world’s most popular drink than you can imagine. And on how her love affair with tea is bringing delight to tea enthusiasts the world over.
Me: Where did your passion from tea stem from?
Snigdha: Tea was a big part of my life since I was a child. Since my father was posted in Assam, he used to bring me a pack of tea whenever he could. It was then that my obsession began. I wasn’t interested in toys and other things children loved. I wanted to collect as much tea as I could, and when relatives traveled, all I’d ask for was tea from the places they went to. My collection had tea from all over the world – Kenya, China, Malaysia, Korea and Sri Lanka. I had all these teas, and knew nothing about them.
Every morning, my mother would make tea and alongside, she would boil water with lemongrass, mint or carom seeds. After our morning tea, I would dutifully sip on this herb-infused water all day. This sensitized my palate at an early age.
Tell me about your logo – the animated elephant!
I stored my precious teas from across the world in an old trunk my father had. For years I refilled it with gourmet teas and every time I took a sip, it would take me on a journey to different tea gardens. When I grew up, I started working as a brand strategist and worked in a company for 8 years before taking a sabbatical. It was then that I went back to my father’s trunk to indulge in my passion – tea. It suddenly became important for me to seek knowledge so I went off to study tea. When I was done, I named my company ‘Tea Trunk’ after my father’s trunk – only now, it was the trunk of the elephant.
Where did you study? What was it like?
I was amazed that India, a nation of tea drinkers had not one institute to study tea. I studied in the Tea Sommelier Academy in Sri Lanka under the guidance of a Japanese Tea Master and went to the U.S. to study further at Specialty Tea Institute.
What did your training involve?
I would begin plucking tea leaves at 5 am in the morning and go on to process, brew, taste and hand blend them. I would taste a hundred cups of tea a day – beginning in the morning and finishing the final cup before the end of the day. We would spit out every sip into a brass spittoon and write down the flavor profile for each.
Snigdha then brewed two cups of tea and bought it out with a little bowl of honey.
“This is marigold tea. If it’s too bitter for you, we’ll add some honey,” she said.
I sipped and surprisingly, it was wonderful! It had a floral aroma, and the first sip was extremely refreshing!
Bitter? Far from it!
This is delicious! Why does drinking green tea usually taste so bad?
As tea ages, it gets bitter. By the time it reaches a factory, you have no idea how old it is and how many hands it has changed. Secondly, when tea bags on the shelves reach their expiry date, they are sent back to the factory where they are mixed with new leaves in the ratio of 80% old leaves to 20% new. So a consumer actually has no idea when the leaves he is brewing has been plucked – hence the bitterness. Tea is actually a seasonal plant, but because we get it all through the year, we think it’s always available.
What are some of the myths attached to tea drinking?
People think that different kinds of teas come from different types of plants. But white tea, oolong tea, green tea and black tea all come from the same plant. It’s the level of processing that differentiates it.
People also think that tea tastes good with everything, but, like wine, different teas pair better with certain foods. The rule is fresh notes with fresh foods – like lemon grass tea with cucumber salad. Vanilla tea can be paired with chocolate cake because they are from the same family.
How do you go about curating these signature blends?
I travel to places like North India for strawberries, Kashmir for Saffron, Uttarakhand for chamomile and visit lots of farmer cooperatives. I try hundreds of cups of teas from each place and sample the ingredients from dozens of vendors before finalizing the one I want to source from. They then supply to our factory in Coimbatore where it is minimally processed and packaged. If you open one of our teabags, you will clearly see the lavender petals, rose petals, saffron strands, chili flakes, vanilla pod bits – you will be able to hold each ingredient in your hand and tell what it is. There’s nothing artificial in there. We’re planning to launch Hyderabadi Suleman Tea and Kerela Pepper Tea soon.
Managing a tea brand can’t be easy. What are some of the challenges you face?
In a country that’s still grappling with the idea of a Wine Sommelier as a profession, explaining that I am a Tea Sommelier is difficult.
Secondly, Indians have been drinking tea for thousands of years, so when I tell them that I’m a tea expert, I often get looks that say “Really? I need someone to tell me about tea?”
Another challenge I face is trying to get people to experiment with tea other than chai. Also, tea is a male dominated business. It has been traded since colonial times like steel. I struggle with getting people to look at it like a lifestyle product.
What about the rewards?
I haven’t really reached the peak yet. When I manage to change people’s mindset towards tea, it gives me immense happiness. Just like when you realized you didn’t need to add sugar, honey or milk in the tea you’re drinking right now.
It’s rewarding when I make people aware of the health benefits that tea has. In China, tea used to be consumed only as medicine. In America, people are making the shift from coffee to tea, whereas in India, we’re slowly gravitating towards coffee. I’m trying to reverse the trend.
Why do you like tea so much and where do you see yourself going from here?
Tea for me is a lifestyle. When I think of coffee, I think of being active… on the move.. being hyped up.
But tea is different – it’s calming and relaxing and I love that about it. I wish to partner with more restaurants and open a tea school in India. India without a tea school is like France without a wine school.
Where can people buy Tea Trunk products?
You can order them online on our website. We’re also available at five star restaurants and hotels. In Mumbai, you can find our teas at Burma Burma, La Folie and The Table. In Goa, it’s available at Urban Cafe, Cafe Chocolatti, Alila Diwa, Grand Hyatt and more.
THAT GOAN GIRL x TEA TRUNK GIVEAWAY!!
I hope you enjoyed reading about Snigdha and Tea Trunk! I love the way her childhood passion led to the launch of a flourishing brand! Just goes to show that it’s never to late (or early) to go after what you want!
As always, tell me what you think in the comments below, k?
So, coming to the giveaway… here’s what you have to do!
- SUBSCRIBE to the blog, Like our Facebook page and follow on Twitter
- On Facebook – Tag friends you would like to have a tea party with and comment on what kind of tea and snacks you would serve at your tea party
3. On Twitter – Retweet the contest question and tag friends you would like to have a tea party with.
I’ll be picking TWO winners at random and they will win a tin of Tea Trunk’s flavour of the month!!! The more friends you tag, higher your chances of winning.
A few T&C’s
The Giveaway is open only to people living in India
Contest Ends on Sunday 26th June 2016 and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, 28th June 2016 on the Facebook page and the blog
The winner must email me on firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday, 29th June failing which, another winner will be chosen.
Good luck and keep in touch!