Tea bars put modern twist on ancient brew

Tea bars put modern twist on ancient brew

Kolkata, 18 September When Indian engineer Suhani Mehra found the bar she usually frequents too crowded this weekend, she nipped into a tea lounge, an institution giving India’s traditional tipple a modern twist.

India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of tea.

And if Coca-Cola was the trendy beverage in the 1990s, the tea bars of Kolkata, which serve a variety of teas and tea-based drinks, including alcoholic cocktails, hope the brew will become the drink of choice for today’s young and health-conscious.

“Tea is a lifestyle product and if you know how to market it, you are a winner," said Bonnya Bose of tea manufacturer Assam Co Limited, which recently opened eight Camellia Tea Bars in the city and plans to open 100 more across the country.

“With life becoming so stressful, the wide variety of organic tea we offer has been a big hit with people," he told Reuters.

At Tea Table, another newly opened lounge in Kolkata’s posh Park Street, waiters ferry cups of Darjeeling tea to young Indians crowded around tables in an area popular for its night clubs, regular bars and fancy restaurants.

“Our profits are nearly doubling and we have sold at least 300 cups more than what we did in the same period last year," said Prasanta Malakar, a company representative.

Pushing tea

The state-run Tea Board of India, the regulatory body of tea producers, started an initiative to popularise tea in the country after exports continued to plummet due to stiff competition.

Competition from carbonated drinks and low yield from ageing tea bushes also had a significant impact, officials say.

Although it is the world’s largest producer, India is fourth among tea-exporting countries now. Its market share in exports has fallen from 45% in the 1970s, when there were fewer producers, to 13% now.

But domestic consumption has risen from 70 million kg (154 million lb) of tea to 786 million kg in those three decades due to population growth and more consumption, officials said.

“Every year the domestic demand is growing by at least 14 million kg, so you cannot ignore the ready market and tea bars is great way to start," said Gangan Boriah, who is in charge of domestic tea development at the Tea Board.

Their strategy involves pushing tea as the “health drink for young minds" and making concepts like “ice tea" popular.

“Ice tea is a great alternative to a beer," said Boriah. But for those not content with just a caffeine buzz, tea bars that offer alcoholic tea cocktails with names such as “Irish punch", “Italian siesta" or “Apricotea wine" are also sprouting inside night clubs.

“I love the Irish punch in the evening as it is much stronger, while the Italian Siesta is lighter and great during afternoon," said 25-year-old Shilpa Mukherjee. REUTERS