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Tea Conundrum

Indian Cuisine

Why is it so that Indian hotels spend, generally, a large sum of money on average imported wines than on the fine varieties of tea from India?

Has anyone ever wondered about the count of dear hotels which expend significantly on wine stewards, on wine storage and on obtaining costly wines? In the West, the wine stewards are responsible for preparing lists of certain wines and ordering them from places across the world. He is considered smart enough to not only decide upon which ones to order, but also bargain well for the purchases. Then, he is regarded adept at suggesting suitable pairings.

On the other hand, in India, it is a tough task to source wines from abroad owing to excessive government regulations governing the import and sale of wines in the country. As a result, many local wine stewards have limited access to imported versions of the alcoholic drink. So, guests come across almost the same wines everywhere in the nation.

Why, still, the hotels located in India do not instead pay more attention to tea or coffee? The question can be answered using the current universal fact that there are only few food and beverages professionals in the world who greatly know about tea. So, coming across a cup of ‘real’ coffee in a hotel can be, also, considered as an opportunity of a lifetime for anyone.

Why is it so that tea is not taken seriously by the Indian hoteliers? Why is a tea menu easier to come across (like a list of wines) at a hotel in New York or Paris (both cities are not associated with widespread consumption of tea)?

The state of affairs can be, to a certain extent, attributed to the attitude of the Indians towards tea. The idea of tea plantation in India is, in fact, accredited to the British. They brought the tea shrub from China and started its cultivation here. Until almost the early 1950s, the Tea Board primarily depended upon the exports. Then, when it ran a campaign to persuade the Indians to have tea, the country actually witnessed a boom in the domestic consumption of the beverage.

The Indians first got acquainted with the current and popular version of tea in the 1950s. The making of the version involves using a lot of milk, sugar and, at times, masala. Then, as the type is ‘cooked’ rather than made the British or the Chinese way, Indians hardly care using quality tea leaves during the preparation process.

Nevertheless, India is globally recognized for the cultivation of some of the finest teas. Growing tea takes, like wine, into account aspects of soil, microclimate, height and others. One of the most suitable environments for the cultivation of the shrub can be witnessed in Darjeeling of the Indian subcontinent region. Undoubtedly, some of the world’s finest tea leaves are from Darjeeling. At the same time, tea leaves from elsewhere in the country are well recognized. As a matter of fact, tea is considered as one of the world’s famous agricultural products from India.

Then, undeniably, an average quality of the Indian beverage is far better than, in various respects, the best available Indian wine. For instance, the expensive teas from Darjeeling such as Castleton, Makaibari, Margaret’s Hope and others are rather less expensive compared to the imported products of quality wines.

So, why is it that the Indian hoteliers still prefer spending considerable time and money on useless  wine consultants, stewards and rather dangerous, health wise, imported wines that get, upon reaching hotels, many a time, spoilt or oxidised?

Possibly, Indians like to acknowledge the yield from the West. Though the restaurants, hotels and shops in the West have recently started paying attention to tea, their many Indian counterparts, unfortunately, did not notice this initiative. The latter, preferably, maintain serving the, often, oxidised varieties of imported wines.

What went wrong with tea in India?

A large quantity of tea consumed in India is processed using the age old method of Crush, Tear and Curl (CTC). This industrial process is usually applied to teas of lesser grades. Nonetheless, the process yields well fragmented teas. A like version upon cooking results in good tea.

During the preparation, if one were to use a CTC tea, then the sole additions of substantial quantities of milk and sugar actually make the beverage enjoyable. Methods employed to cook and the associated tastes of the teas do not really matter. In fact, this version of the tea is consumed by many Indians.

Given the fact that the CTC teas are relatively economical, a majority of local tea businesses embraced the CTC process upon its arrival in India in the 1950s. The country, however, exports leaf teas which are known to render far better flavours. Their manufacture requires using advanced processes, namely, ‘orthodox’ and others.

Thus, Indian tea is known across the world particularly for its versions processed using the method of orthodox.

Many hotels and restaurants in India cannot clearly make out if they are using CTC teas. Thus, they, unknowingly, find themselves serving the likes during room service.

Then, there are teabags. Anyone who really loves tea shall never consider using teabags. As tea companies in India are also aware of this fact, they, often, do not mind putting ordinary qualities of teas such as CTC teas and others into teabags. If a luxury hotel employs teabags in serving the beverage, then it can never be truly termed as a luxury property. Unfortunately, many such hotels indulge in the act.

An ideal deluxe property never serves ordinary qualities of the beverage. Next, every tea plantation is associated with a specific kind of yield. Similar distinctions can also be observed with regard to wines. So, guests should be not only enabled to decide on their teas by plantation, but also offered complete information as regards the origin, first flush, second flush and others of their selections.

However, this is not the state of affairs.

Nonetheless, there exist happy exceptions. While serving as the head of the Taj, a renowned chain of luxury hotels, R.K. Krishna Kumar prevented any storage of teabags across the chain. Originally being a tea man, he developed an impressive tea culture at the Taj by letting the properties offer gripping tea menus. He is accredited for starting restaurants known for serving great teas such as Varq at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi and the lounge at the Taj Land’s End. The latter is particularly known for its ingenious use of teas and infusions, i.e., teas made using only herbs and no tea leaves.

Then, the first general manager of Four Seasons in Mumbai, Armando Kraenzlin, was also preoccupied with the idea of Indian tea. So, he obtained very high quality teas for the hotel. However, he soon encountered a problematic situation. He found similar hotels instead placing kettles in guest rooms. The practice was fast growing in order to meet guests’ prevailing preference of using teabags to enjoy quick cups of tea in the comfort of their rooms.

At that time, tea companies located across the world acknowledged, except the ones in India, the fact that there existed a certain market for premium quality teabags. Hence, Armando decided upon a two stage process. The first stage involved only purchase of high quality Darjeeling tea and the second stage was about essentially putting it into bags. However, no Indian company agreed, then, upon to take the order of accomplishing solely the second stage of the process. So, he outsourced this task to Dilmah in Sri Lanka. Thus, it is a famous Sri Lankan tea company which is accredited to introducing the premium quality teabags in the Indian market.

In hotel operations, the selection of teabags for placement in the guest rooms is considered as a matter of little importance. However, the same does not hold true in the context of luxury hotels. Here, extreme attention to detail is what makes the property stand out.

At the moment, possibly, a few hoteliers care about the tea they serve. Many hotels can be observed instead using teabags that come in rather elegant packaging. Nevertheless, there are great hoteliers (Biki Oberoi and others) who had an exclusive blend of tea conceived for their properties.

Then, there are a few questions that remain unanswered. Why do, still, many Indian hotels continue to brag about their knowledge around wines and not work instead at making their countrymen take pride in one of their notable agricultural yields and at impacting their guests’ experiences? Why some hotels, then, in the age of Starbucks, continue to serve a sickening quality of coffee to their guests?