Like the gourmand who cannot see food as mere sustenance, the tea connoisseur expects much more from his brew
It is just another afternoon in Lamakaan and a group of 30 people, young and old, are passing around groups of freshly brewed tea. Subhorup Dasgupta’s voice can be heard explaining the nuances of the beverage as they sniff, swirl and sip it. “What you are drinking is not just a beverage. The tea bush is also a life form which has had its experiences which are communicated with us through the tea leaves and a good connoisseur can tell you under what circumstances the plant existed by taking a sip of the tea” he says, summing up his philosophy on tea.
We met with Subhorup, writer and social activist a few weeks later, when, over a cup of black ‘tippy’ tea, (a tea that has a predominance of tips or buds) he chatted about his mission to educate and inform people about tea and the labour that goes into making fine tea and his website, Blendoftea.com, a curated online catalogue for pure and herbal tea.
According to Subhorup, the taste of fine tea, which makes up only 1 per cent of the world’s tea production, is dependant on a variety of factors from the plant species, geography and climate of the region, the method of plucking, the time of the day the leaf was plucked, the processing time and even how long it is kept on the shelf. “The same tea leaves will taste different if the plucking was done early morning or late afternoon,” he points out, “And in terms of processing, you have whole leaf, broken leaf, cut, trimmed and curled and also fannings, which determine whether a tea is black, green or white.”
“White tea is the least processed of the three,” says Subhorup, “it is just plucked and allowed to dry so it has all the essence preserved. Black tea on the other hand is bruised more and allowed more time to process.” Green tea is in between, and contrary to popular belief, all three varieties have equal amounts of caffeine in them,” Subhorup says.
However, big tea brands that have to maintain levels of production and market standards choose to do things a bit differently. “Most corporate tea companies repeatedly emulate a particular flavour by blending different types of tea together. And while orthodox tea is processed in a mere 2 hours, pure white tea would take two weeks to process.” While many would rather have a simple but stimulating beverage for an affordable price, tea lovers spend up to Rs.8000 to Rs. 21,000 on kilogram of fine tea.
“I used to order my tea from retailers and that would cost me, so in an attempt to save money, I decided to approach the wholesaler directly. In the process, I learnt a lot— right from the processing of tea to the conditions of workers in tea plantations. So I decided to start Blendoftea.com with two other friends NVL Sateesh and Naresh NOL,” explains Subhorup of his year old e-commerce venture.
“Another of our goals was to test if it is possible to run a completely ethical business,” informs Subhorup. “We don’t use plastic or metal in our packaging. Our tea comes in a specially designed cardboard box and a brown paper bag.” Even the ink used to write down the address, is non-toxic, specially imported from Germany; the price of the product is simply a mark-up on the cost. The website is seen more as platform to spread the word about fine tea rather than a potentially lucrative business venture.
“Besides, we also want to start a community centre that has a space where people who can’t afford fine tea can come and taste it at a reasonable price,” says Subhorup who also conducts free tea tasting sessions in the city. “Forming a worker’s collective of tea labourers are also on the horizon,” he concludes.