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Tea Trunk’s Founder Snigdha Manchanda has big plans for tea business in India

Tea Trunk’s Founder Snigdha Manchanda has big plans for tea business in India

India’s first certified tea sommelier and founder of Tea Trunk, Snigdha Manchanda talks about building a tea education hub in the country and reviving sustainable practices in tea plantations. 

Snigdha Manchanda, tea sommelier and founder of Tea Trunk

After Snigdha Manchanda graduated from the Tea School in Sri Lanka, she invested her time in demystifying tea speak for regular consumers. In 2013, she launched
Tea Trunk, a homegrown brand that crafts artisanal tea blends from Indian teas for Indian consumers and in the last eight years, curated a collection of more than 60 unique, gourmet tea blends such as chamomile herb tea, rose oolong tea and matcha green tea, priced in the range of ₹299 to ₹1,499. Also, on offer are premium botanicals such as lavender buds, hibiscus petals, blue pea flowers and spearmint leaves. “These offerings have been central to our culture for their flavours and the great health benefits,” says Manchanda. “From teaware to artisanal gifts and unique collaborative curations and tea masterclasses, we have done it all,” she adds.

Speaking about her plans, she says, “We wish to establish ourselves as India’s leading tea brand for boutique, crafted tea blends that serve as holistic wellness solutions.”

Ivorystation speaks to India’s first certified tea sommelier Snigdha Manchanda about her biggest learnings from her tea master, how sustainable is the tea industry in India and her vision of setting up a global learning hub for tea in the country.

What are your views on the trend of immunity-boosting teas?
I don’t think that the word ‘immunity-boosting’ is misleading. But I feel that without proper knowledge of how an ingredient can add to one’s health, a consumer would be caught up in the capitalistic drift of everything being good for their immunity, especially in the pandemic. To improve immunity, one needs to imbibe some foods or lifestyle habits in their routine for a sustained period of time. For example, having a cup of green tea every morning or sipping hibiscus tea every day will fill you with good antioxidants, which neutralise harmful free radicals in the body. If you include these teas in your diet and combine them with some basic lifestyle choices like sleeping on time, exercising, eating a balanced meal, then yes,  the ‘immunity-boosting’ properties of teas can be definitely realised.

How do you choose which teas to blend?
It totally depends on what is the purpose of the brew. If I combine mint and green tea together, it will serve as a digestive brew, great to have post lunch because it has a dash of good caffeine to help you power through the afternoon slump. As a tea sommelier, I have been trained to understand the nuances of flavours and properties. Which two ingredients will go together and will accentuate each other’s properties. These are some things I research and work through to curate a blend. On other days, I just blend for fun. The latest example of this would be the limited-edition pumpkin spice matcha that I blended for the winter, solely because I was reminiscing the taste of a freshly-baked pumpkin-spiced pie.

Tea Business in India, Tea Trunk

Pumpkin Spice Matcha tea

What inspires you to explore new flavours?
I think my time studying at the tea school, where I was introduced to the world of reading flavours and their nuances, opened my eyes to a world of endless possibilities. Seeing people light up when they taste one of my curated blends makes it more worthwhile.

What are the most valuable lessons you learnt from your Tea Master, and how are you incorporating those in your business?
I studied under the guidance of Japanese Tea Master Nao Kumekawa. Of course, he taught me everything that came within the purview of cultivating tea, blending and tasting tea. He also introduced me to the nuances of traditional tea ceremonies and the lessons one can draw from them. By learning the true essence of cha-dō (the way of tea in Japanese). He inspired me to appreciate a few other allied lessons, like the importance of pauses, trusting the course of nature and holding and cultivating a certain degree of discipline in life to be able to play with flavours and to let them speak to you. These learnings have been vital to my life.

Tea is considered a lifestyle now, what changes do you see in consumer buying and consumption patterns in India?
Tea has come to the forefront as an essential item in every house in the last two years. It helped people sail through long work-from-home hours or just to help alleviate the general stress/anxiety of the time. We have witnessed product penetration across socio-economic classes and across tier-2 and tier-3 cities/towns. Consumers seem more confident about trying out new variants. That’s because there’s quality control, convenience of options, ease of storage, and superior flavour has led to a boom in the demand for wellness teas.

How sustainable is the tea industry in India?
In my interactions with various Industry experts, agriculture experts and tea garden managers, I have realised that we need a revival on the sustainability aspect of the tea industry. I learned that up until a few decades ago, most tea gardens followed organic farming practices, which included mindfully maintenance of the flora and fauna of the land surrounding the gardens and usage of natural fertiliser. But with more and more dependence of the home industry on bulk exports to foreign brands, brands started cutting down prices and shifted to other gardens that employed modern techniques for a good product but at the cost of quality and fair prices to farmers. This is all structural and there is a price attached to sustainability that cannot be bored by the producers or brands. Homegrown brands like ours can certainly turn the tide around, and hopefully, we will.

How has the tea industry changed and evolved over the years?
The pandemic brought on some really hard times for a lot of tea gardens and farmers. We expect to see the global tea industry grow despite the challenging times. It is because a lot more people are choosing tea as a healthier beverage. There is a considerable rise in the demand for wellness blends and consumers are willing to try a variety of products. I expect to see a sustained rise in the demand for non-caffeinated tea variants.

What spurred the decision to set up a global learning hub for tea in India? 
Back in 2010, when I wanted to study tea professionally, there was no such academic institution in India. I knew that someday I would like to direct my energies into changing this. India without a tea school is like France without a wine school. I envision building India into a global learning hub for tea. India is the world’s second-largest tea producer and largest consumer with a long history of unique farming and cultivation practices. It is only fair that we build an academy around this expertise that is such an important part of our history.

Where do you source your teas from? 
We have different sources for different varieties of our tea and our botanicals. We primarily source from renowned tea gardens in Darjeeling, Assam, the Nilgiris, Japan and Nepal. For our botanicals, we source from farmer cooperatives and family-owned and run farms across the country.

Tea Business in India, Tea Trunk

Berry Matcha tea

What’s on offer currently?
Customers can explore our winter essential blends. They can also check out our limited-edition Matcha.

Share some Dos and don’ts while brewing tea.
First, always add hot water to the tea leaves and not the other way around. Secondly, to make a good cup of tea, always be wary of the steeping time. Thirdly, it is customary for the host of a tea party to always serve the tea. After serving, the teapot should be kept on the table with the spout facing the person who poured out the tea.

What is the best way to prepare a delicious cuppa?
Use fresh water. If possible, try and always use whole-leaf or loose-leaf tea.

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