As one of the largest consumers of tea in the world, India is fast becoming home to exclusive tea lounges, offering innovative beverages.

Tea lounges on the rise, Ambica Gulati's articleAmbica Gulati

Walking through the crowded streets of Hauz Khas Village in Delhi, one reaches the bright green door leading to Chaayos, the tea lounge. A lounge for the young and the old, Chaayos makes you bid goodbye to the famous street side tea vendor. It steps beyond grandma’s and ayurveda’s traditional herb teas and offers some eclectic mixes of non-milk teas, milk teas, iced teas and an innovative ‘thanda chai’. The thanda chai is a close cousin of the cold coffee with froth and powdered aromatic spices making it a delightful sip.

The brainchild of two young men, Nitin Saluja and Raghav Verma, Chaayos caters to the changing palate of this diverse country. “India is a nation which likes to drink tea. So we decided to tune it to a café culture where people could relax and enjoy their cup,” say the duo, who have nine outlets in Delhi-NCR and there are plans to open one in Mumbai. Actually, in 2013 the then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia had plans to recognise tea as the ‘National Drink’ because India is the world’s second largest producer of tea, producing an average 900,000 tonnes each year (as per worldatlas. com). Experts say that tea is the highest selling drink after water across the world.

Tea lounges on the rise, Ambica Gulati's articleThe Business
While tea, as a drink, does the rounds across the world, the plants grow in abundance in the northeastern state of Assam. So much so that tea is the official ‘State Drink of Assam’. Vivek Agarwal, Director, Belgachi Tea Estate says, “The total turnover of the tea industry in India was approximately Rs 33,000 crore in 2015 which has increased from Rs 19,500 crore recorded in 2011. With nearly seven lakh hectares under tea cultivation, the domestic tea industry is growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of about 15 per cent.”

Agarwal adds that India is the world’s largest consumer, second largest producer and fourth largest exporter of tea after China and accounts for nearly 30 per cent of global output and nearly 25 per cent of tea produced worldwide is consumed in India. Branded market accounts for nearly 55 per cent of the total market and is growing at about 20 per cent while the unbranded market is growing at 10 per cent annually. The tea industry employs almost 35 lakh workers in over 1,500 tea estates across India, out of which 65 per cent are employed indirectly. “Tea production in 2015 is likely to stay over 1,000 million kilograms,” elucidates Agarwal. “Per capita consumption is 800 grams.”

Tea lounges on the rise, Ambica Gulati's articleVariety, Culture and Popularity
With an enormous production and consumption capacity, it’s little wonder then that the Indian hospitality industry is offering unique tea experiences. Chaayos offers around 25 different kinds of teas under its four categories. Among these are the unique aam pappad, hari mirch, kangra special. And tea here is served in a ceramic cup, thermal cup, erstwhile mud kulhad and cutting glass, which is the street vendor’s little tea glass.

While the day begins at 8 am and ends at 1 am at Chaayos, The Atrium at The Imperial New Delhi offers 28 kinds of tea for its popular high tea. The high tea culture is said to have been popularised by the British in India. Surender Singh Thakur, Director F&B,
The Imperial New Delhi says, “The 28 different varieties of teas include herb teas like jasmine, chamomile, green, mint. The most popular teas in The Atrium tea cart menu include Darjeeling, Makaibari Silver Tips, Kashmiri Kawa, Assam Golden Tips and Masala tea. The tea menu is usually decided by the restaurant manager in consultation with Director Food & Beverage. Till date we haven’t removed any tea from the menu but have surely added to our collection.”

But what’s interesting is that “In eastern India tea is quite popular, unlike South where there are more coffee drinkers,” says Surojit Chatterjee, Director F&B, Novotel Kolkata Hotel and Residences. This hotel boasts of a Tea Lounge alongside its Premier Lounge (members only) on the sixth floor. Here, varieties of Dilmah tea from Sri Lanka are served. These include the Ceylon Young Hyson Green Tea, Supreme Ceylon Single Origin, Sencha Green Extra Special, pure peppermint leaves, to name some. “The most popular are Morroccan Mint Tea and Green Tea with Jasmine Flowers,” says Chatterjee.

As the palate revels in the refreshing cup of tea, tea lounges flourish and people find more additions to experience and experiment with. “We have not needed to remove any tea from the menu,” Chatterjee reiterates. And the others echo the same sentiment.

Did you know?
Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is often credited with the invention of the high tea. In the early 1840s, dinner was not served until 8:30 or 9:00 pm. As the Duchess would really feel hungry by that time, especially in the summer when dinner was served even later, she ordered a small meal of bread, butter and other savouries such as cakes, tarts, and biscuits, to be secretly brought to her boudoir. Luckily, she was not ridiculed for this when it became public knowledge. And the habit caught on!

Courtesy: The Imperial New Delhi

This article has been published in FHRAI magazine, August 2015 issue.