IndusFresh Details

By TPCI | November 29, 2019

Tea Trunk’s founder, Snigdha Manchanda, takes IndusFood on a fascinating nostalgic journey that witnessed the genesis of her love for tea, her decision to transform this passion into profession, the most unusual nibbles to pair with your cup of tea and more.

IndusFood: How did you commence your journey as a tea sommelier, and what was your driving source of inspiration?
Snigdha Manchanda (SM): Tea has been an integral part of my life and a ritual for me, for over a decade, which started even before I formally studied tea. My father was posted in Assam and in the early 90’s, he brought me a pack of green tea that introduced me to the world of teas. I had teas from Kenya, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Korea – and while I had a great collection, I barely knew anything about it.

In the morning, mom always had two kettles boiling on the stove. Tea boiled in one, while the other had anything from ajwain (carom seeds) to leftover mint leaves from the previous night or lemongrass boiling inside. I and my sister would dutifully sip the resultant herb-infused concoction throughout the day, after their morning cup of tea. This is my earliest association with my favourite beverage. We grew up drinking these herbal infusions. I also recall times when my mother returned home from Assam with teas and fresh memories of visits to tea estates.

For over a decade, I’ve been consumed by the love for tea. I collected teas in my trunk since my teenage days and currently my tea treasure includes over 100 exotic and rare teas and blends from around the world. This precious treasure went on to became my inspiration to start Tea Trunk, a boutique Tea Consultancy and a venture that was all about educating in the art of tea appreciation. I grew up collecting teas. Friends and family who would travel well would bring back tea as presents.

At one point, I owned over 100 rare and exotic teas from China, Japan, Taiwan, Russia, England, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Kenya and so on. I owned this tea treasure but I knew so little about these teas. So in 2011, my passion for tea took me to a professional tea school in Sri Lanka, where I studied under the guidance of a Japanese tea master, Nao Kumekawa.

I left Tea School inspired and brimming with stories about tea, and decided to make it my mission to demystify tea-speak. Many tea tastings and workshops followed. The more stories I told, the more I heard. I smiled extra bright when chai-lovers walked over to say that they had never had tea this way. And I wanted more and more people to discover and enjoy good-quality tea. Thus was born Tea Trunk, the name inspired from my father’s vintage trunk and a tribute to where my love for tea began.

Today my trunk holds gourmet tea blends crafted by me. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do; take your pick, and experience tea like it should be.

IndusFood: What were some of your most memorable experiences as a tea connoisseur? How would you describe it as a career option today?
SM: During my study, I visited numerous tea gardens, tasted 100 cups of tea a day, and profiled over 2,000 varieties of tea.

Hospitality schools are now introducing more detailed study on tea. There is a growing demand for tea specialists at star hotels, fine dining restaurants and gourmet stores etc. I think for dedicated and well-educated tea specialists, there will always be good career opportunities available. This is why we are starting Tea Masterclass and Tea Education programs to groom the right talent and educate them for such roles. More details of the courses are available on our website.

IndusFood: What should be kept in mind to prepare ‘the perfect cup of tea’? And what insights on tea tasting/pairings should the average consumer be aware of?
SM: Part 1 - Brewing tea correctly
You can buy the best quality teas, but if you don’t brew them correctly, you never truly experience the tea. Three most important things in brewing are - source of water, water temperature and brewing time.

First, choose your source of water carefully. Always use freshly drawn water from a filtered source. I prefer this over still water from a jug or a bottle. The only exception to bottled water is spring water bottled at source. That, in fact, is the number one choice to brew tea, but of course it may not always be affordable and available to everyone. Hence, stick to freshly drawn water as your first choice.  Please remember - better water turns a good tea into a great one and bad water can make even expensive tea taste sour and acrid. Never ever use hard water to brew your teas. It may turn out to be completely unpalatable. Hence, choose wisely.

Second, when you boil the water you must know the optimum water temperature for the kind of tea that you are brewing.

Quick guide: 
Black and Oolongs - 100 deg
Green and White - 80 deg.

This is a blanket rule that works for most teas. However, if you are interested in the nuances of tea, read your brewing guide to find out what is the suggested temperature. All good quality teas come with a brewing guide. If you don’t find any such information, it’s probably some commercial lot sold to you in a fancy box.

For teas that require 100 deg., pour water immediately after boiling so that there is no change in temperature when the water hits the leaves. For 80 deg, be patient - and after the tea has been boiled, let it stand for 2-3 minutes. It will lose heat and reach around 80 deg in 2-3 minutes. (The duration may be shorter in cold climates. Hence, consider your actual room temperature when you do this.)

Last and the most crucial step is taking note of for how many minutes you brew the tea. Each tea has a different time at which the optimal flavour is released. The thumb rule is the longer you brew the stronger the tea tastes. Shorter brew makes a lighter cup. This should help you decide how you like your tea. 

Quick guide
Black and Oolongs - 2-4 minutes.
Green and White - 1-3 minutes. This is a blanket rule that works for most teas.

If you’re brewing tea for the first time and you’re not sure, then it’s best to brew it for a shorter duration of time and taste it first. You can always put it back to brew for longer.

This is what I love about tea - if it’s too weak, you can pour it back to brew for longer. If it turns strong you just add in water and dilute it.

Part 2 - Food pairing
Most of us practise few rituals while drinking our tea. We sip our teas listening to the radio, while reading a book or catching up with friends. One thing that is certainly on everybody's to-do list at tea time is finding the right snacks to feast on. We may love the classic biscuits to dip in our tea or something more gourmet to tickle our taste buds. The food pairing possibilities are endless. Some are more unusual than the others.

Take chocolate, for instance; most of us cannot get enough of this sweet goodness. It’s the ultimate go-to food to lift us up when things are not going our way. Yet how many of us have tried it with tea? Yes, we are dead serious! Dark chocolate desserts pair well with our Apple Spice black tea. If you cannot get a chocolate dessert, simply breaking off a couple of pieces from a slab of dark chocolate will be just as enjoyable to eat while you sip.

Something else that is quite unusual that pairs well with tea is cheese. We know it’s usually associated with wine tasting, but we recommend you try it with tea. You will not know how good it tastes with tea unless you try it. Try our Marigold Green Tea with a warm cheese toast. The base tea is Darjeeling Green Tea, which goes well with young cheddar cheese.

Pineapple is another unusual food that pairs well with tea. We recommend you sample pineapple with our tropical Hibiscus Green Tea. The citrus profile of the pineapple complements the tart and bold flavours of Hibiscus Green Tea.

IndusFood: How has iced tea catalysed the growth in tea consumption, and how do you see it going forward?
SM: People nowadays are slowly moving away from the traditional style of tea. Compared to the earlier days, they are now more enthusiastic to try out different tea varieties with more health benefits. Unlike before, consumption of teas with artificial colouring and flavours is gradually decreasing. This generation demands more of natural and pure ingredients. Paying a premium to these blends is not a constraint that we see in our consumers. As long as it is a premium quality that you serve your patrons, price is not an issue that they worry about.

IndusFood: What sets a quintessential cup of Indian tea apart from its foreign counterparts? What would you define as an ‘Indian tea culture’?
SM: Tea may be the drink you wake up to every morning, but there’s still a lot you can explore in the fine art of Tea Appreciation. We all know tea in one avatar that is chai; but there are other avatars of teas too - Blue, Red, Yellow, Purple, White, Oolong and others. And more so, there are as many ways of growing and preparing tea as there are ways of brewing and serving it. In India we are gradually exploring these many avatars of Tea.

Over the last decade we saw a lot of transition that overtook the traditional method of drinking tea. People have become more health conscious and are giving more importance on the components that make their cup of tea. A lot of attention is given to health benefit rather than just the flavour, less of artificial components and more of organic ingredients is the need of the market today. People nowadays prefer a green tea over the traditional chai and this is kind of change that took place over the decade.

IndusFood: What role does tea have in the growing out-of-home coffee culture among Indian millennials? How is it that coffee enjoys a much higher value proposition compared to tea today? What can be done to make tea more popular and premium?
SM: I find it very ironic that many people who start their day with a cup of chai and only drink tea at home often drink coffee when they are outside only because it’s more cool and trendy. Lack of good tea rooms and cafés are partially to be blamed. However, it is the attitude towards the beverage as down market which needs to change. Interestingly, major coffee drinking nations like the US, and countries in Europe are seeing a reduced consumption of coffee and people switching over to tea for health reasons. Hence, while the West is turning from coffee to tea, countries in the East are seeing a reverse trend with the younger generation choosing coffee over tea.

That said, your choice of beverage reflects your individuality. No two people are alike. Hence, it’s not fair to say that tea is better than coffee. But yes, a guided journey into exploring tea could at times help one switch over from coffee to tea!

We need to make tea more accessible and approachable for the youth so that people don’t think of tea as a beverage for the elderly. We focus on promoting the health benefits of tea, since this appeals to the new-age conscious consumer.