When Anamika Singh had two choices in her hands, either to join college or head to the factory at 4am in the morning every day, she chose the road less travelled. Her life is significantly influenced by the mountains and nature. Her journey hasn’t been all hunky dory but it hasn’t stopped her from getting up every morning, holding life by the horns and saying that her mission is to change the way people sip their tea and to spread the good word of tea.
From working in the tea factory to tasting numerous cups of tea as a tea taster, the journey under the wings of her father has been a fulfilling one. When she began her career in the early 90’s, there were not many women in the tea industry and not being heard in the vast male dominated tea industry was her biggest fear.
In an email interview with Restaurant India, Anamika Singh, Tea Sommelier, Founder Director Anandini Himalaya Tea, shared how people in India know only one or two types of tea while this country has so much to offer.
The Restaurant India: Tea has always been an integral part of India and it is considered to be a lifestyle now. In your opinion how is the consumption pattern of tea is changing?
Ms. Singh: There has been a considerable amount of change in the way tea is approached as a beverage and the way it is consumed. But mostly it has been consumed with milk and sugar, which is largely prevalent even today but the difference now is that the consumer sees tea as a tonic, as a remedy for various things in life and a large part of that has to do with health.
People have consciously made it a part of their daily routine to change their lifestyle. They have started travelling more than before and pick up teas from other countries and would love to sip something similar back home. Consumers have started appreciating the taste of tea without milk and sugar and that is a huge pat on the back for the producers at the tea estates.
The Restaurant India: How do you explore with the blends (for example we see in Chinese tea, they use everything from fruits to jasmine and chamomile flowers to create a new flavoured tea)? From where do you get inspiration to explore new flavours?
Ms. Singh: We have been very particular not to use anything that is artificially flavoured or has artificial oils. To tell you the truth, the choice of taste that we like our guests to experience all begins with a dream. You dream about the taste, the experience, the origin and you can imagine the end result. We opt for flowers, herbs, spices that are largely sourced from India, the exceptions being Rooibos & Yerba Mate. We believe in supporting the farmers who grow the flowers, herbs and spices locally. This not only assures us of the quality but also of the freshness. We know that the tea from our estate is superior in quality. Hence it is crucial that the ingredients added to it follow the same pattern and they balance each other. Most of the blends that we have created have a story which has formed a reason for me to create the infusion.
The Restaurant India: What tea you start your day with? What is your all time favourite one?
Ms. Singh: The simplest has always been closest to my heart and with Green Tea infused with Rhododendron flowers & Himalayan Tulsi, I begin my day. The Green Tea is manufactured in our estate and is infused with Himalayan Tulsi & Rhododendron flowers, both of which are from the Himalayas. We have been very fortunate to get the best. It is warm & earthy and feels like a hug in a cup early in the morning to welcome the day.
My all time favourite is the Pinewood Smoked Tea that my father makes in the tea factory in the latter part of the year. This absolutely gorgeous Black Tea has a woody fragrance, nutty to taste with hints of sweetness. The cup is dark, intense and bold. It reminds me of childhood, bonfire, starry nights and mountains and us, all huddled around the fire sharing stories with intervals of the sound of the call of the wild.
The Restaurant India: How sustainable is the tea industry today in India?
Ms. Singh: The gap that existed between the producer, retailer and consumer is no longer as vast as it used to be few years ago. We have made it a point to bring the three together as they each in their own way play a crucial role in making tea the beverage of the nation.
As long as we understand the nuances of tea, it is an industry that supports thousands and thousands of livelihood and the onus falls on each one of us who consume tea every single day to understand more about the source, the importance of supporting the tea community through understanding what it takes to make the two leaves and a bud.
It is highly crucial that the Tea Board of India continues to support not only the larger, well known tea estates but also the smaller estates in the far flung areas of the country and brands that believe in supporting the tea made in India. It is all linked.
The Restaurant India: What is the road ahead for you?
Ms. Singh: Our newest endeavour has been working on bringing the estate closer to the tea lover. We have introduced tea trails in Dharamsala in our estate, and in boutique estates in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim & Darjeeling. It is an immersive experience of understanding what it takes to make that perfect cup you sip every morning.
The trail includes walk in the estate to the factory, making your own batch of tea, pairing it with cheese and local food and getting acquainted with the energy of the place that transcends into the cup.
We have been working closely with the food & beverage and the entire hospitality industry, and have been extremely happy with their enthusiasm to know more about tea. In the near future we have plans of expansions not only across the country but overseas as well. The restaurants and hotels outside India that we are working with have loved our creation, the authenticity of the teas and not to forget the legacy of 80 years that we carry with us.