The premium loose tea market in India is about to boom: Stephen Twinings
He drinks 9 cups of tea a day, is the 10th generation scion of one of the world's largest players in the premier tea category and is now in India to introduce 21 new flavours of luxury tea that will only be available in five star hotels. Yet, when he is not being a tea-totaler, Stephen Twinings is happy sipping red wine and travelling the world. He tells Dhiman Chattopadhyay all about the unique varietals Twinings is bringing to India, the correct way to brew tea and more
How much tea do you drink in a day?
Oh, at least nine cups, sometimes more. I have my favourite flavours but I love to try out different flavours and tea from different regions of the world.
I believe your tryst with tea started very early in life…
Well, yes, my surname was a dead giveaway. When I was eight years old my geography teacher once asked me to talk to my classmates about India and tea. He knew my father and since most of the academic year was already over, he figured it would be a good time to expand the minds of his students. So I went home and armed with tea samples and a briefing from my father, who was then a director at Twinings, I gave my first tea tasting demonstration and lecture to 20 of my pals. They were wide-eyed. To them tea was that brown liquid with milk added that their parents had at home. They had no idea it could be green, black, light brown, yellow…all sorts. Shocked by their lack of awareness, I made up my mind that I would spread the word about England’s favourite drink when I grew up.
You already have 18 popular blends available in the market. Why are you bringing in 21 new loose tea flavours now and why won’t you make them available in stores?
These are extremely premium tea flavours. While all our packaged teas do have clear instructions on brewing time and how to optimise taste, these new flavours really need expert handling. Good tea needs the right ambience. It is a luxurious drink. So we are not simply making them available to five-star hotels. We will train the staff at every hotel about how long to brew each of these teas, the exact water temperature for each variety and how to serve them. We will also be providing the crockery! As to why now, much like wine, the awareness about tea and its many varieties has grown rapidly in India. The premium loose tea market in India is about to boom. While India is justifiably proud of her Darjeeling Assam and Nilgiri teas, we will now be bringing tea from Taiwan, China, South Africa and Sri Lanka for you to taste. Also rare stuff such as gunpowder and chamomile tea.
Wow, gunpowder tea? What else?
Oh, quite a few really. We are bringing in blends such as gunpowder and mint, Taiwanese high mountain tea, oolong tea, Darjeeling green tea, chamomile flowers, jasmine pearls, English decaffe and even a tea called Russian Caravan.
Russia makes tea?
No, actually this is Chinese tea. Apparently the Tsar ordered the tea to be brought from Russia and large crates of tea travelled across the mountains on a caravan, hence the name. A very important part of tea is how well you package it. If packaged perfectly, it lasts many months. Otherwise, the flavours just vanish. The Chinese must have known how to package their tea well even in those days.
In India, we either have our tea raw or with dollops of milk and sugar. That won’t work with many of these great teas, will it?
Absolutely not. See, the way you have tea in India, is interesting. In Britain a lot of people have it that way too. For instance your masala chai is something we would love to market in another part of the world. But each tea has its distinct character. So for Taiwanese high mountain or for chamomile tea, never put even a drop of sugar. They are naturally sweet teas. Similarly, for any Oolong or green tea, never add milk or sugar.
We also boil our tea, or at least sip it boiling hot.
It works for black tea that Indians mostly have. But for white, Oolong or green tea, it is best to have the water at 80 degrees Celsius. Now you know why we insist these new blends stay in five-star hotels? Imagine telling your maid to boil the water and then let it cool for 240 seconds, then add two spoons of tea in the pot and time it to four minutes and 30 seconds before pouring!
We have had green and Oolong. What is chamomile or gunpowder like?
Chamomile is a naturally caffeine-free tea. We just pluck the buds of the flowers and they remain in their natural state till you brew it in hot water. The ideal brewing time is about four minutes in water that is at 80 degrees centigrade. It looks like sauvignon blanc (wine), has a mild, soothing and flowery taste with definite notes of honey. It’s the ideal drink when you are sitting in a lounge overlooking the sea and you want to relax. Gunpowder and mint, unlike what the name suggests, is also a mild tea. Do not add sugar or milk…at least no sugar please, since it has a natural sweetness to it.
Twinings is officially the preferred brand of tea for the British royal family…
Yes, we have been the official royal warrant holder for the royal family since 1837 when Queen Victoria conferred the honour on us.
So, which variety does the Queen drink?
Unfortunately, we are under oath of confidentiality not to reveal which brand goes into the palace. But well, the variety or the blend that does go to the palace, is not yet available in India!
We do, however, have, a Prince of Wales blend that was the favourite of King Edward VIII. (Edward VIII ruled from January-December 1936 and abdicated the throne to marry a commoner). He wanted us to make it public and so we named the blend after him.
And when you are not sipping tea, what do you drink?
Wine. I spent some years in Australia and I love the Australian red wines. I am also British and I enjoy my Scotch.
Finally, what’s your next goal in India?
The Indian tea market, at Rs 7000 crore, is huge. Of this the packaged tea market is just Rs 350 crore. We cater to only the premium segment or just five per cent of this massive market. Our potential target customers today are about five million. If we can take our premium loose teas to them in the next few months, we will be happy.