By Sourish Bhattacharyya
ANAMIKA SINGH is the child of tea. Her father, Abhai Singh, a 46-year veteran of the tea industry, was at one point consulting with 20 tea gardens and five top companies. She grew up in the tea gardens of West Bengal, studied in tea country (St Helen’s Convent, Kurseong) and joined her father to get “my hands dirty” straight out of school. By then, her father had bought a 650-acre tea estate at Manjhee Valley, Dharamsala (in the shadow of the Dalai Lama’s spiritual headquarters and the mighty Dhauladhar mountains in the north-western state of Himachal Pradesh), producing mainly for the export market.
|Anamika Singh with a neatly packed can of infusion at the|
Anandini Himalaya Tea Boutique at Shahpur Jat, New Delhi
Her range includes seven infusions (she’ll add another three or four when winter formally arrives), which aren’t your run-of-the-mill teabag types. She has married the Manjhee Valley First Flush with lavender flowers and lemongrass, the autumn tea with rose petals and lemon balm, and green tea with chamomile and rose hip, rhododendron or pomegranate flowers and Himalayan tulsi (holy basil), rose petals or fire flame bush and mint. She’s also working to develop a blend of black and green teas.
The First Flush, Anamika says, is flowery on the nose and greener on the palate than its Darjeeling cousin, and surprisingly, it matures like a wine. This tea is most popular in Germany and France, and when buyers came recently from the two countries, Anamika surprised them with the 2008 First Flush, whose taste had evolved magnificently. “These teas are longer lasting,” she insists.
Anamika says she first imagines a flavour and then sets out to create it, and it turns out exactly the way she imagined it. It reminds me of a memorable line that would keep coming up in conversations with Bernard de Laage de Meux, marketing and communication director of Chateau Palmer, the well-known Bordeaux Third Growth, during his recent visit to India. “Wines,” he would say, “are all about the intention.”
You can’t escape wine analogies when you’re talking about Anamika’s teas, especially the hand-made ones that don’t come into contact with any machines. It takes eight to ten women, hand-rolling individual sets of two leaves and a bud for eight hours at a stretch, to produce just three kilos of tea. And hand-made teas are rolled only in the months of March and April, so it shouldn’t surprise you that they are priced between Rs 700 and Rs 1,200 for 35 gm at Anamika’s store. I asked Anamika how many grams of tea leaves go into making a standard cup of tea. “Two grams,” she said. You can’t hope to get more than 17 cups from a pouch of hand-made tea!
It reminded me of the garagistes, the Bordeaux winemakers who produce very limited quantities of wine that command very high prices because of their quality and rarity. I was first introduced to these wines by my well-connected English friend, Mark Walford, at the estate of none other than Jacques Thienpont, the Belgian who created Le Pin, which in certain years is the most expensive wine in the world because the production never exceeds 7,200 to 8,400 bottles per day. A passionate paraglider, Thienpont, who also owns the fine Bordeaux estate named Vieux Chateau Certan, came to India some years back to check out the skies of Pune. And if Thienpont can ask for the moon for his wine, Anamika can surely charge Rs 700 for 35 gm of hand-rolled tea.
Ironically, diagonally opposite Anandini, which is next to Bookwise in the Shahpur Jat maze, a pub named Chapter 36 is all set to open. I wonder whether they’ll serve tea, but I don’t see Anamika’s patrons washing an infusion down with a lager. Why seek alcohol when you can imbibe Anandini teas?