India is one of the largest tea producers in the world, with the tea industry throwing up many global brands in recent years. It has also upgraded to a technologically sound industry. Tea production, certification, exportation, and all other facets of the tea trade in India is controlled by the Tea Board of India, and comes under the control of the Union Government.
Tea always been indigenous to Eastern India, and was cultivated and consumed there for thousands of years. Commercial production of tea in India began only after the arrival of the British East India Company, who converted large tracts of land for mass tea production. The two most popular teas grown in East India are Assam tea and Darjeeling tea, which are popular across the country.
Distinctive quality of Assam tea
Because of its lengthy growing season and generous rainfall, Assam (lying on either side of the Brahmaputra River, and bordering Bangladesh and Burma), is one of the biggest tea-producing regions in the world. The tea plant is grown in the lowlands of Assam, unlike Darjeeling, which is grown on the highlands. The region experiences high precipitation; during the monsoons, the daytime temperature rises up to 140°C creating greenhouse-like conditions of extreme humidity and heat. This tropical climate contributes to Assam’s unique malty taste, and strong dark colour – features that make this tea famous.
Assam tea, or blends containing it, are often sold as ‘breakfast’ tea. English Breakfast tea, Irish Breakfast tea, and Scottish Breakfast Tea are common generic names for these kind of teas. Though Assam generally denotes the distinctive black teas from Assam, the region produces smaller quantities of green and white teas as well with their own distinctive characteristics.
Mild aroma of Darjeeling tea
Darjeeling tea is grown in the hilly regions of Darjeeling in West Bengal. It is available as black, white and oolong* tea. It is a light textured, light-coloured infusion with a sweet floral aroma. It is normally produced from the small-leaved Chinese variety of Camellia plant , unlike the large-leaved Assam plant. Traditionally, Darjeeling tea is consumed as black tea; the oolong and green teas are gaining a lot of attention nowadays.
“The total Darjeeling branded tea market size as per 2010 Nielsen figures is estimated to be 108 tonnes. Goodricke is currently estimated to have a 38 percent market share with the company’s various brands,” informs VS Gulia, Head – Packet Tea Division,Goodricke.
Tea’s changing status
Tea consumption in India is considered to be more than any other traditional beverage. According to Harish Bijoor, Brand-expert & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults, “Tea is India’s favourite beverage. The per capita consumptin of tea is a multiple of 11 to that of coffee. india’s mass beverage choice is tea. All this has happened progressively over the decades but in a painstaking effort by the early companies in this space, who did yeoman’s service to this industry. Brooke Bond and Lipton were two such companies. The heritage of tea plantations run to stringent British norms in the North East regions of the country helped establish an origin status for tea as well. Early work in this space had pioneer marketers go from village to village in the country to popularise the beverage. The edifice of tea consumpton was built brick by brick with immense marketing effort. I would call this early tea evangelism.”
Packaged tea is gaining popularity, even in the smaller towns of the region. New technology in production as well as in the packaging helps producers to retain the goodness and freshness of their tea.
According to VS Gulia, “Packaged teas are gaining in preference across the country and East India also has a growing share of packaged tea over loose teas, albeit a little slower, as compared to the northern and western regions. Consistency in quality, convenience, and hygiene are making more and more customers opt for packaged tea over loose even in the lower segment of towns and cities.”
He adds, “We manufacture and source our teas from our own gardens, and all our processing units are state-of-the-art units where special emphasis is laid on quality control and hygiene. These garden fresh teas are then packed at our own packing units, where again, the best quality materials are used to carefully pack the teas into sealed caddies or cartons. Our factories are HACCP and ISO certified and as such we adhere to the highest and stringent quality control methods in the world. Further, we keep ourselves abreast of the latest advances in packaging and upgrade our units accordingly.”
The company’s tea estates in Darjeeling have the Rain Forest accreditation (a world renowned certification that attaches high importance to environment concerns). Three out of the six Goodricke tea estates are either organically certified or are in the process of being certified. The tea plantations are manured with enriched bio composts/ vermi composts produced in-house using high quality ingredients and agents like Azolla Algae and imported Eoesiena foetida earth worms that are tested and tried in their in-house R&D lab.
Says Gulia, “Over the years we have included and evolved many new pack ranges to suit the varying tastes and requirements of the customers and presently we have a wide array of specialty teas in our Darjeeling range which we are ever looking to expand depending on the requirements of the discerning customer.”
He add, “Being originally a tea producing house, we have an advantage of sourcing the best teas from our own stable of gardens which also allow us to pack the best quality produce. With the Goodricke group benchmarking itself as quality producers of good quality teas, responses from our customers have been highly encouraging. We have a sizeable market share in spite of negligible marketing activities being undertaken so far.”
Role of modern retail
The expansion of supermarkets, especially in the emerging markets, has been an important platform for showcasing wider beverage choices, thereby satiating the expectations of a burgeoning and increasingly aspirational middle-class. The shelves display a variety of popular tea brands, including the lesser known infusion tea, green tea, white tea, etc, which are also gaining mometum, with tea companies increasing their production to meet demand.
“Super-markets are new retail concepts, and they showcase these new forms of teas, and both the retailing formats and the teas are becoming the latest fads. They are seeing growing consumption by all age-groups. The most popular tea variety in India is the CTC variety, but there are also emerging niche consumers of Darjeeling, Fannings, Oolong, and other whole leaf vareities, says Bijoor. “
He adds, “Supermarkets and super-stores have played a significant role in promoting newer and lesser known varieties such as green tea, herbal teas, and the most convenient tea bag variant.”
Giving a different perspective, Gulia, comments, “Presently, traditional retail formats would be having a larger share of the sale volumes as compared to supermarkets. This trend is, however, changing slowly with more people, especially in the larger towns, preferring to shop in supermarkets.”
Time for a tea twist
India’s youthful population is becoming more fond of coffee than the traditional sweet hot tea, and the credit for this goes to the new café culture, particularly, in metros like Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore.
According to Bijoor, “Tea will continue to evolve. In the beginning it was black tea. Then it was whole-leaf. In came CTC following by the fannings** in the Western region of the country. Then there was the flavoured chocolate teas of Hyderabad and the Masala teas of the West. There was suddenly a profusion of tea bags. Iced-teas and ready to drink teas made tea drinking that much more contemporary and hip.”
On a note of caution, he adds, “Tea in India will suffer a second-class status in the future, with coffee getting the the first-class status drink, unless tea re-invents itself. The Cha-bar is an idea whose time has come.”
“Tea is a classic example of how India has maintained a positive equilibrium. I have always believed that we need to have a very positive volume of domestic consumption to make anything happen internationally. And tea has done it for us,” concludes Bijoor.