There is something about the whimsical world of monsoon, where one moment you enjoy dancing in the rain and the next your home all cosied up with a cup of tea. From Sherlock Holmes savouring a cuppa while solving mysteries and the Mad Hatter—from Alice in Wonderland—delighting in his eccentric tea parties, to a prince charming Fawad Khan (or should I say Vikram Sigh Rathore) savouring a cup of chai on the streetside in Khushboo, tea is a beloved beverage in all parts of the world and there is no denying it. If I may favour my own dreamer personality, I’d say chai is one of the very few things that we all share in common, irrespective of caste, creed, gender, borders and all those titles that divide us.
In this world of ever-evolving trends, the humble beverage has also traversed a long way. The simpleton that tea was, has now taken up new artisanal avatars available in exotic flavours, catering to any and every whim one might have. And honestly, what better time than now to acquaint yourselves with some of the most enchanting homegrown tea brands to sip away the monsoon blues?Join us as we raise our tea cups in a toast to the showers as we converse with five individuals who envisioned tea in a whole new (and luxurious might I add) light.
Vahdam India Vahdam India is spearheaded by Bala Sarda (Founder and CEO), boasting of its exceptional variety of tea sourced directly from India's finest tea plantations. When we asked the man himself what inspired him to seek homegrown handcrafted tea, he said, ‘it's not just about a delightful cup of tea; it's about honouring the rich heritage of Indian teas and spices while sharing their exceptional quality with the world. Having a deep-rooted lineage in the industry and being the fourth generation in my family to start a tea business, I challenged myself to disrupt the 200 year old conventional global tea and spices supply chain. The absence of a home-grown brand has made the tea industry dependent on bulk exports, which leaves millions of tea growers here still plagued with problems like low wages, poor education and an uncertain future’.
From classic black and refreshing green tea, to delicate oolong and soothing herbal blends, Vahdam India has a tea for every palate. ‘We procure garden fresh teas from India's choicest tea gardens, eliminating any middlemen in the supply chain, allowing us to source our teas within days of harvest, ensuring utmost freshness and preserving the unique character of each tea. Every batch of tea is tasted multiple times by our in-house team of experienced tasters, led by me. I personally taste and evaluate the blends before they ultimately bear the Vahdam India stamp’, said Mr. Sarda, stating what separates Vahdam from its competitors. Working closely with 150 gardens across regions like Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiris, Vahdam teas reflect the diverse terroir and artistry of Indian tea cultivation.
‘Some recommendations to watch out for are the hand-crafted winter teas from the Nigiris, limited edition single-estate teas from the first and second flush harvests in Darjeeling, the exclusive White Silver Needle tea from Darjeeling and Himalayan Pearl Green teas. We’ve recently launched a brand new product line for iced teas, made with 100% real tea they come as both instant premixes and pitcher tea bags’ said Bala Sarda excitedly while mentioning some of Vahdam’s best.
No. 3 Clive Road ‘It all started with stories of my large family, an open home and memories shared over endless cups of tea at No. 3 Clive Road, New Delhi’, said Radhika Chopra, the founder of the eponymous tea brand No. 3 Clive Road. ‘Despite being the second largest tea exporter in the world, India did not have a premium, luxury tea brand that was recognised globally. So, I set out with a vision to create a brand that would not only celebrate our tea heritage, but also allow us to take a pause from our fast-paced lives and appreciate old-world experiences with a modern sensibility’ is what Chopra said when we asked her what inspired the genesis of No. 3 Clive Road.
No. 3 Clive Road as an evolving brand seeks to establish a deep and meaningful connection with India's rich history and traditions by carefully naming blends, selecting ingredients and through packaging as well. Every blend, like the Jodhpur, Aurangzeb and even the Ayurvedic combines its long lineage with the art of savouring tea, creating a unique experience. We also asked her if she had to pick out the most unique product from the assortments her brand makes available to the consumers, she said, ‘we have always been keen to offer interesting tea options to our consumers, including our ceremonial-grade Matcha green tea, which we proudly produce in India. I would also suggest our Jaipur Blend, an indulgent brew enhanced with dark chocolate, dried orange and rose petals. It's inspired by the romantic pink city. Every blend is handcrafted in small batches using only natural and locally sourced ingredients’.
No. 3 Clive Road strive to create the epitome of all tea time settings through their products. Chopra also stated that all available pantry accessories at Clive Road have been developed to accompany the tea table. One of their most recent additions is Classic Tomato Chutney, a sweet and spicy condiment. In addition to our tea offerings, they’ve also introduced Reusable Tea Filters and a Full Leaf Strainer designed to make loose-leaf tea more enjoyable. They have also launched their own coffee this year, excited to serve a broader audience, to enhance their coffee experience
Sancha Tea Boutique Dating back 42 years, Sancha Teas is the oldest artisanal and luxury tea brand to set up its first gourmet tea store in Old Delhi. ‘Sancha was envisioned when I was just 14 and a school assignment asked me to review the Tea Board Pavilion at Pragati Maidan. My mother who was an aristocratic tea drinker encouraged me to take up this project, firing my imagination with the pictures of the mountains where tea is grown and plucked deftly by hand’ stated Sanjay Kapur, Founder and CEO of Sancha Teas. ‘Our outstanding quality, freshness and unique blends attract tea lovers to come experience our teas. We stay away from the mundane and constantly innovate and play around with ingredients to curate blends and aromas that are pleasing’ he added.
Sancha Teas is the only artisanal tea brand in India to have received the high honours to serve the highest offices in India for about 4 decades now. ‘In the year 1983, we were contacted by the honourable Prime Minister of India’s office to curate teas that can be gifted to Heads of State on their visits to India and the Honourable Prime Ministers overseas visits, hence birthing the President’s Tea of Darjeeling. We were also the first Indian brand to launch our teas in the highly educated, sophisticated and competitive Japanese market in 1989, more than 3 decades ago’, stated Mr. Kapur proudly.
The journey from plant to cup is a fascinating one. Sancha sources it’s tea leaves from organic, Rainforest Alliance Certified Sustainable Tea Growers and Tea Board Certified Tea Estates. When we asked him about the tea making process at Sanche he said, ‘the tea once plucked and processed is then subjected to a thousand taste tests where they are assessed for their colour, body, aroma and flavour profile. It is then matched with all of Sancha’s quality criteria before making it to a micro batch blend where it is blended with spices, botanicals and herbs’ explained the process.
The brand has recently launched a butterfly blue pea flower tea blend that has been artistically blended with sweet lavender and cool menthol notes of mint leaves. In the recent past they also launched a range of all natural iced teas, including the Thandai Iced Tea, with unique notes of saffron, rose, cardamom, fennel and black pepper. ‘Our aim will remain to enable our customers in discovering new varieties of teas such as white tea, oolong tea, green tea, herbal tisanes, pu-erh tea, matcha tea as well as educate them about the time of harvest, the aroma notes, the difference in fermentation of the leaves and their health benefits’ added Mr Sanjy Kapur.
Tea Trunk From collecting samples of tea from across the globe and becoming India’s first certified tea sommelier, to starting her own gourmet Tea brand based in Goa, Snigdha Manchanda has come a long way. ‘Back in 2010, when I was on a sabbatical I was on a lookout to explore things that deeply interested me. I definitely wanted to learn everything there was to know about tea but to my surprise, I could not find a tea school in India.I tracked down a Japanese tea master living in Sri Lanka and trained under him to become India's first certified tea sommelier. And then when I returned to India, I decided to start Tea Trunk as a tribute to where my love of tea began, where I was storing all my teas in my father's old vintage trunk’, Manchanda elaborated, when asked about the conception of Tea Trunk.
Snigdha Manchanda is of the opinion that tea is for everyone.It's not a commodity, but a lifestyle. ‘Each ingredient sold is sourced individually from different parts of India. For instance, rose petals come from Jaipur, saffron comes from Kashmir and so on. We craft our own unique blends with a care for precision and quality. Tea Trunk was the first to launch pyramid-shaped biodegradable tea bags in India. It’s things like this and a razor sharp attention to detail that separate Tea trunk from its competition. Also, when we talk about craftsmanship, we aim to keep sustainability at the core. If I were to explain with an experience, I realised chocolate is one of the hardest flavours to infuse in tea because it can easily turn bitter. The flavour actually comes from the cacao butter,which would actually turn oily and greasy in a cup of tea. Instead what we did is we sourced the cacao shells from Mason and Co from Pondicherry. Since the cacao shells were of no use to them, after they roast the cacao pods, we get the shells, infuse them in our Earl Grey, and that itself lends an earthy chocolatey flavour without using actual chocolate in it’, she said.
When it came to her choicest products from Tea Trunk, ‘I think the moon white tea is very special, given it’s the most luxurious tea available. And what we have is plucked on a full moon night, not for any occult practices, but primarily because you're then able to pluck tea in the early hours of the morning, and that helps retain a lot more moisture. Adding to that, every year since the Pandemic, we launch a new edition of our botanical cocktail kit, which is a cocktail set with botanicals that you can use to create interesting cocktails. We're also launching a Pink Lotus Green Tea, delicately infused with honey crystals and a touch of mint. We will be bringing back one of our specials for Christmas, which is going to be a Gingerbread Chai,’ Manchanda exclaimed excitedly.
Hillcart Tales ‘We are inspired by the simple aim to carefully select and offer refreshing flavours, invigorating aroma and well-rounded character, Hillcart Tales for more than a century has fine blended rare teas’, says Ambarish Ghosh, Founder and Director of homegrown artisanal tea brand, Hillcart Tales. The renowned brand is known best for their handcrafted tea blends artfully woven together creating a symphony of flavours that mesmerises the senses.
‘We selectively handpick our teas taking care to make sure that only the first few tender leaves and the iconic still-curled bud that defines the uniqueness of the Camellia Sinensis leaf reaches our bouquet of offerings. In addition to this, our packaging is a celebration of art and traces the origins of our teas. Hand-painted watercolour illustrations, brought to life by 37 generations of renowned artistic lineage, adorn our mono-cartons and caddies. The hues artfully represent the origins and nature of the tea packed within. Each illustration is a poetic representation of the sheer focus and effort of our tea pickers in the misty mountains of Darjeeling, Rwanda, Taiwan and Assam,’ stated Mr. Ghosh as he listed out what about Hillcart Tales was unique to the brand,
Given the 120 year history that the brand has witnessed, we also asked him for his opinion of the one-of-a-kind products sold by Hillcart. ‘Our most loved tea category is our exotic tisane range. We bring vibrant fruity flavours to life, hand-packed in muslin tea bags that can be enjoyed anytime, given your mood. Hillcart veterans enjoy these flavours the most as a cocktail or a cold brew’ he said.
Trying to get a little sneak peek into the future, Ambarish Ghosh also said, ‘We plan to introduce a tantalising array of exotic tisanes in the near future. THese blends promise to transport your taste buds to uncharted territories. Furthermore, we recognize the growing importance of wellness. With this in mind, we are focusing on curating a collection of wellness blends with the power of natural ingredients through which one can actually reap the maximum health benefits of tea’.
Natasha Kittur is an aspiring writer. Her love for anything with cheese and spice is profound, but a white sauce pasta always tops her list. In her free time you will catch her reading or watching crime books and shows or go on and on about psychological experiments and theories. She aims to write a book in the fictional genre someday.