Wooing India’s Taste Buds

Cafe Chains Enchanting India!

Coffee was synonymous with the south Indian ‘davara kaapi’ till the early ’90s. Few were aware of anything more than the south Indian filter coffee or instant coffee, till the cafe revolution took it by storm, today the country has cultivated a taste for every kind of coffee be it cappuccino or espresso or a latte, thanks to the homegrown pioneers that ushered in the revolution – Barista and Cafe Coffee Day.

The Cafe Chains could not have chosen a better time to have launched the cafes in India. The opening up of the economy nurtured entrepreneurship; IT Industry had taken a firm root in the country propelling the economy forward, disposable incomes were increasing and the quintessential ‘INDIAN’ was ready to indulge. Taking root in the Silicon city of India, the Cafe culture has now gradually permeated into the staunchest tea-drinking population of the north and the growing economy of the country only contributed to boosting the cafe business.

It is believed that “the robust growth of coffee consumption at 6%, way over the global average has beckoned both the Indian and the international chains to invest and take a risk with India.” Today, the organized café market in India is at $ 300 million and is likely to reach $1.1 billion, with a phenomenal growth percentage rate of 20% according to a report by consultancy firm Technopak Advisors.

The Indian populace is not only cost-conscious but also quirky and widely different from their international counterparts. For Indians hanging out in a cafe is more a lifestyle statement and choice rather than a habit. Today, the Cafe business in India is studded with homegrown and international cafes chains alike each adopting a different approach, varied target group, and multi-layered positioning to capture the market share and have a larger share in the pie.

Home Grown Brands

Cafe Coffee Day– the cafe retail venture of the Amalgamated Coffee Bean Co. Ltd. is by far the leader in the pack. True to the byline of the cafe – ‘A lot can happen over a cup of coffee’, a lot has happened since the brand started its first cafe in 1996 on Brigade Road in Bangalore. CCD which could arguably be stated as the Cafe that brought in the ‘Coffee cup totting culture’ to India now has about 1500 cafes in the country in Square and Lounge formats and expansion is definitely the agenda for the cafe chain.

CCD leveraged the first-mover advantage and has steadily expanded occupying strategic prime locations across the country. The growth never phased down, it rather increased its expansion by seeking investments from PE firms KKR and Co. LP, New Silk Route Partners LLC, and Standard Chartered Private Equity in 2010 who now have acquired a combined stake of over 30%.

The strategy of backward integration in terms of owning large coffee plantations and a furniture company to cater to the cafes’ decor is another added advantage. Though the company has not made any statements, reports in the market state that the company is gearing itself for an IPO listing. Mr. Ankur Bisen, Vice President, Technopak Advisors opines that the idea of an IPO may have been long brewing within the company while the current bullish market may have prompted it into action.

It would be difficult to unseat this homegrown leader from its top position for it has made a clear head start with numbers and location and it has wedged itself in the Indian psyche as many a youngster grew up with the variety that CCD offered.

Barista Lavazza – India’s second-largest cafe chain in terms of numbers, Barista a pioneer in the sector failed to take advantage of its early entry into the sector. The company quickly changed hands with different management and operational strategy within the first decade since it started in 2000. Initially funded by Turner-Morrison under the leadership of Ravi Deol, it was taken over by Tata Group for a brief period until Mr. C Sivasankaran’s Sterling Infotech Group acquired the company. In 2007, Italy’s favorite coffee brand Lavazza acquired all the businesses of Barista to make an entry into India.

Since then Lavazza Barista has taken efforts to consolidate the business and grow it. Today the group has about 163 cafes along with a very profitable coffee vending machine business under the banner Fresh and Honest. However, reports in the market indicate that the group is looking at divesting its interest in the cafe business while retaining the Fresh and Honest Brand.

International Entrants

Costa Coffee – A UK based chain, entered India through the franchise model with Devyani International, a part of RJ Corporation. The first of the cafes were opened in 2005 and after a slow cautious expansion, the chain has in the past couple of years expanded rapidly and now has about 100 cafes in the country. Reports indicate that Costa may end its exclusive franchise model with Devyani International and explore other partners.

Tata Starbucks – One of the largest Cafe chains in the World, one that is known to have made the morning coffee drinking regimen a religion for many Americans established its first store in 2013 and has expanded to about 45 stores in a short span of time.

Though a little late, Starbucks is entering India with a formidable partner, it has tied up with Tata Group, the largest integrated coffee company with a 50:50 partnership. Like Cafe Coffee Day, this formidable combination with Tata brings in the advantage of backend integration with Tata-owned coffee plantation and real estate.

Starbucks is known for rapidly adjusting its strategy to suit the local tastes as it demonstrated in China. Though it has a large international menu consistent with its other chains across the world, it has tweaked its menu to include paneer and kebab items to entice Indian palate.

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf – A large privately held coffee and tea cafe chain based out of California – Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf entered the Indian Market in 2008 with Pan India Solutions a leading player in the organised restaurant and retail business. Pan India is known to run other popular chains across the country including Bombay Blue, Gelato Italiano, and Copper Chimney.

The chain has over 25 cafe outlets and functions both as company-operated outlets as well as a franchise model. The philosophy of the chain is to offer high-quality coffee to the Indian population and is poised to expand its presence across the country with an addition of ___ cafes.

Gloria Jean’s – Functioning through a franchise model, Australia’s premium cafe chain which has a presence in over 37 countries opened its cafes in India in 2008 with the Indian Partner Citymax Hospitality of Landmark Group. While the cafe chain expanded to 30 outlets, today it has reduced it to 23 across the country. Mr. Pankaj K. Neeraj, Head of Operations says that the group is attempting to relook at its operational strategy to increase profitability and consolidate the business.

Dunkin Donuts – Considered a rival of the coffee behemoth Starbucks in the USA, with enviable coffee sales of its own, Dunkin Donuts entered India ahead of its competitor. It entered India through a Master Franchise arrangement with Jubilant Foodworks, the company responsible for bringing Domino’s Pizza to India. Unlike in the US, the Indian management is focusing more on food rather than coffee and is aiming to offer the affordable eating option for the consumers.

Other formats

Food generates the major chunk of the revenues, while coffee has a prominent place in the menu and acts as a supplement to food in this format of cafes. Consumers in such cafes look at coffee only as an accompaniment to food. International chains Subway, Krispy Kreme McDonald’s and Au Bon Pain operate within this format while still aiming at the same consumer base. To suit the Indian taste, filter coffee has been made a part of the Krispy Kreme Menu which is very popular among consumers” – Mr. Pankaj K. Neeraj, Head of Operations, Citymax Hospitality of Landmark Group

Java Green, a Reliance venture operates in a unique format. It is located in Reliance World catering to its broadband and cellular customers; however, the chain is slowly expanding as stand-alone locations outside Reliance World.

Challenges

While the country and especially the youth population is ‘gung ho’ about the cafes sprouting across the country; the sector is not without challenges.

Indians still look at cafes as a place to hang out, unlike the west where ‘coffee on the go’ and must have morning ‘coffee fix’ is the trend. The premium ambiance and the time spent in the cafe become as important as the food and beverage offerings. It becomes that much more challenging for the cafe chains to offer a premium experience with high-quality coffee without consistent sales volume and profits.

Trained and skilled manpower is a key component of the cafe business. In India, Barista as a profession is still not actively pursued. Most of the cafe chains follow the format of hire and train recruits to suit the required skill sets or poach trained manpower from other chains. With the emergence of a large number of cafes, the demand for a skilled workforce has increased ten-fold. Cafe Coffee Day seems to have found a solution with an in house training facility to man its stores though it is plagued by high levels of attrition.

Strategic premium locations are vital to successful cafes that come at an exorbitant price buoyed by the shooting real estate rates and such catchment areas have the presence of similar cafe chains adding to the woes of cafe chains.

Despite the challenges, the sector is poised to grow at a healthy rate of 10%, with an addition of approximately 2000 cafe outlets within a span of 5 years according to a recent report by Technopak. There is an increase in the number of cafe chains from different countries desiring a share in the pie of the cafe business including Di Bella and Testa Rossa. Demonstrating that India today indeed has the space for more number of cafes as the Indian taste buds are asking for more!

Tea & Spice it up with Arabian nights

Angshuman Paul, Tea-entrepreneur & tea estate owner, Girish Chandra Tea Estate, A.C Paul Agricultural Company

It’s interesting to see how ethnic practices gradually bring in new vistas for contemporary organizers while they are hosting various functions. For the month of February this year, I have indulged intensively in such ethnic oeuvres and would be obliged to share them with you at a glance. Let me take you to Dubai where my host welcomed me with an intensive Moroccan Black tea. Tea in the UAE has been re-contextualized in the traditional Arabic way, so although my host Ishan Ray Choudhury (an avid Moroccan tea drinker who’s also nostalgic about Darjeeling tea) introduced me to this Moroccan tea, my quest was to be part of the organized traditional Arabic tea and spice tours. Before I mention more about these Arabian delicacies and their Indian connection, it will be nice to provide a platform that relates Moroccan tea with India. Moroccan tea unlike Indian black tea is sweeter (no need to add additional sugar).

Bucked up with this mission, I traveled to the Arabian desert on a tour that instills in the traveler a deep appreciation for Bedouin culture. Chaiwallahs have a beautiful bonding in Bedouin cuisine, which commences with the ceremonial pouring of tea or coffee from Dallas (traditional Arabian-pots) and when I said I belong from Darjeeling, a few of them enquired about Darjeeling tea. Indian tea has a fervent flavor, which was not present in Arabian tea, as Arabian tea is garnished with excessive boiling, making the flavor bit bitter. But you could harmonize it with Indian tea as lots of Indian brands are being exported to Dubai (I found that Tata Tea has a maximum retail presence).

It is as if the chai patterns hint at personal geographies, as they spread out, mapping unchartered courses. For instance, the same withered CTC or Orthodox tea from India has adopted its own pattern in Bedouin cuisine. But this article would not be complete if we don’t talk about Arabic cuisine. Arabic Bedouin dishes are dominated by red-chilli & turmeric spices, which are imported from foreign lands (read India & Pakistan). Chili Pepper Spice, Cayenne Pepper Spice, and Black Pepper Spice are three spices, among the long list of spices that are appreciated among the Arabs as heat-adders. And when it comes to the culinary bonding between Indians and Bedouins, both of them use Chili Pepper Spice. Whether it be in an Indian spice blend (like Curry Powder hot & Cayenne Pepper Spice) or in an Indian dish itself (like Tandoori Chicken), Indian cooking is revered by any heat lover.

But if reading so much on extreme hot spices is creating a phobia in you with respect to Arabian cuisine, then let me tell you that Arabians in fact go gentle while using them in camel meat, Arabian fish curry, and Shawarmas. Although Shawarma is a Lebanese dish, there are a number of Shawarma shops in Dubai & Saudi Arabia, and my experience in a few of these shops indicates that red chilies from India are ground before being used to marinate the meat for Shawarmas. These dishes are served with Moroccan Black tea and often in combo offers. It might be weird as we are used to combos of pizzas with carbonated drinks/juices but even Moroccan tea with a Lebanese dish is equally enjoyable.

Some quality ‘Temi’ tea time

Angshuman Paul , Tea-entrepreneur & tea estate owner, Girish Chandra Tea Estate, A.C Paul Agricultural Company

 

At the onset of this year, I was in Temi Tea Garden with my family (all of them are from the tea fraternity). I am a contemporary empiric when it comes to exploring the creative epicenter of any place that I visit, and that starts with the ethnic frame of that place. It was a freezing, foggy winter morning of January when we passed the Temi forest (located in South Sikkim) to reach the grand Temi Tea Garden. Our home for three days was the Cherry Resort, situated in the heart of the picture-perfect landscape of Temi tea garden, and the wafts of the cool, fresh Himalayan filled my lungs. My host welcomed us with the intensive Orthodox Black tea from Temi, and now it’s time to harmonize with ethnic history. Sikkim was merged with the Indian Union in the way back in 1960, and to accommodate Tibetan refugees from the nearby Tibetan Refugee camp in Rabongla, the Government of Sikkim identified the Temi forest to establish this tea estate.

 

With this mission in mind, the Sikkim Government started Temi Tea Garden with a group of Tibetan workers in 1968, and in 1974, they hired a British manager – Mr. Young – to manage the garden. From Mr. Young to Mr. Ravi Kumar (the present manager), Temi has been engaged in the production of Orthodox Black Tea from a garden that’s spread across an incredible 500 acres of land. On an evening cup of tea with Mr. Kumar, he shares his nostalgia with Temi tea and how tea manufacturing in Temi is more of an art than science. Unlike CTC (Curl, Tear, Crush) Tea from Bengal, Temi Orthodox tea starts its construction directly from withering and in our next day visit to the factory, my uncle (an expert in CTC tea manufacturing) points out the differences in the withering process of Temi tea as compared to CTC tea. For instance, the troughs for withering CTC tea are straight & parallel, but in Temi tea, the channels are slanting.

During my visit, I was happy to note the crucial role that women were playing in the tea manufacturing process. In Temi, I saw the packing is done in wooden tea boxes by a group of Mongolian (read Tibetan) women. In fact, during my visit to the garden, I noticed women laborers also managing the construction of the road that’s spread across the tea garden and separates the garden from the forest. Another strong distinguishing factor of the tea bushes over here is that they have a useful clonal character and are generated from Chinary seeds, which are ideal for the manufacturing of flavored teas. They have helpful tip content, and a touch of bloom is evident. This is not palpable in the Assamese species of seeds, where the branch spreads from well above the ground level, unlike the Chinary seeds, where the office covers just above the ground level.

Temi has three types of tea – Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP), Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe (TGBOP), and Golden Orange Fanning (GOF). The first two comprise 75 percent of total production and are exported to countries like Germany, UK, and Japan.

My last day in Temi was a bit depressing as the weather was too cold, with no sun making the departing moment more emotional. But if you want to enjoy tea and cherries, then do visit the Temi garden during spring. I was told that Dalai Lama extended his stay in Temi as its beauty enamored him.

Dyed in Coffee

A slip of the cup and the lip and we end up having a coffee stain on our favorite salwars, best office pants, expensive silk saree; the garment perhaps will never regain its original glory. The archenemy of many a homemaker in India, the coffee stain is dreaded. But, what if the coffee stain can be flaunted and created into an Art!

If you are thinking of ephemeral Latte Art, made by a Barista when you order a Cappuccino or a Latte at a Cafe, you are way off the mark. I actually mean wearing and displaying coffee in a more permanent status.

Malaa Treon, a textile artist from Pune who believes that art should be displayed through every medium possible including the human body through artistic attires, has researched and created a way through which coffee can be worn, displayed, and shown off on clothing and accessories. A germ of this idea originated when she interacted with Mrs. Sunalini Menon, CEO, Coffeelab who suggested if coffee could be used as a medium for creating art on fabric.

Malaa’s research and development with coffee over the past couple of years have been extensive with many misses and some successes. Malaa believes in using natural fabric and therefore her mediums have been natural fibers like cotton, wool, and silk. She shared her experiences with coffee at the India International Coffee Festival 2014, through a workshop titled Coffee Art on Silk.

If the stubborn coffee stain is any standard to go by, then coffee should be a strong and clinging dye. But Malaa’s experiences have been different; coffee and water do not even create any lasting effect on fabric and resulted is being washed off. So her experiments became more varied and complex.

Her extensive trials with different blends, concentrate, roasts resulted in the realization that since coffee is an elusive dye, the highest concentration of coffee decoction with the darkest roast would be the best possible solution for the fabric to absorb and retain.

While just a simple soaking process was not much of a success, Malaa tried steaming the fabric in coffee decoction which is a standard procedure in dying fabric. This was successful and coffee clung to the fabric. Out of the 3 fabrics used as a medium; silk and wool were successful, but cotton failed to give satisfactory results. She says that her personal favorite for coffee is silk and she continued to work with it.

Although steaming was successful in dying silk with coffee, creating art and designs on the dyed fabric was a different challenge altogether. Gum Arabic proved to be a savior to create the design. While Gum Arabic, water, and coffee decoction die not to give very profound effect, only gum Arabic and coffee decoction resulted in creating beautiful and impressive designs.

While sharing her results with the attendees at the workshop Malaa demonstrated the technique and allowed them to try their hand at creating coffee art on fabric.

It takes a determined person with perseverance to work with an elusive component such as coffee, but her passion for coffee is an ongoing process and she promises to experiment with the bean to create new processes, better consistencies, and new possibilities. India is well known for both coffee and silk and here is a thought for industry pundits – product differentiation by marrying silk and coffee?

Zafran ka safar (the journey of saffron)

Ms. Gena Fazel

Rich purple blossoms glisten on a dewy morning, laid against a clear blue sky. These celestial blooms possess the world’s highest-valued spice – saffron. Our land is graced by its influence as it flies high and bright on our national flag depicting the values of courage and sacrifice. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the second President of India, beautifully encapsulated its significance by noting that ‘Bhagwa’ or the saffron color denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work, ‘indicating it’s religious connotations wherein ascetics take up saffron robes and leave behind worldly pleasures. Kesari adorns Mughalai dishes, with their creamy gravy and luscious meat, whose ambrosial taste is enhanced by the addition of the red threads. Biryani, pork korma, Murg Kashmiri, and shrikhand have their tastes elevated while the diner savors the blend of health, flavor, and aroma. Saffron is essentially the fiery red stigma of the flower, which imparts a tinge of yellow when it comes in contact with liquids. The aroma and color of Zafran cannot be replicated or imitated; a feature that makes it unique.

From being used as a fabric dye to christening the basest of dishes with flavor, saffron is an enigma that speaks for itself. It’s health benefits are ambrosial – packed with the goodness of antioxidants and carotenoids such as lycopene, it is also a rich source of minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium and vitamins A and C. The female part of the flower – the crocus sativus may produce an abundance of several flowers which will further be processed by drying/curing processes before it enters the market. Quality is of key concern, as demand has shot up in this consumerist culture. It is evaluated on the Spectrophotometry report which analyses various chemicals that influence the aroma, flavor, and color of the saffron stigma. In tech-speak, these are crocin, picrocrocin, and safanal. There is an odd manner in which the quality of saffron is gauged – the stronger the color, the better it is.

According to a UNIDO report, ‘Saffron stigmas are graded on color, bitterness, and aroma, and the ISO 3632-1 classification divides the filaments into four categories depending on the percentage of floral waste and percentage of extraneous matter and on the assay results for color, bitterness, and aroma. There is a major cause of concern for adulteration of saffron stigmas; more often than not the packages are intermingled with reddish-orange or yellowish styles which give off a putrid smell and are sticky to the touch. Large bands of this plant cut across the field of Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Iran, and the cold landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. Each country has its local classification and grading standards varying from ‘Sargol’ in Iran to ‘Mancha’ in Spain or the Italian ‘Aquila’ and Kashmir’s ‘Mongra’. The FAO has recognized the farming system in Pampore which threads the banks of the Vatista that is a treasure house of traditional farming methods that the labor-intensive saffron cultivating society has preserved over eons. Known for its ‘lazazat’, the saffron lands aren’t the main source of income for the laborers – livestock, silkworm, fodder, fuel, fruit, and mulberry trees line the farm boundaries thereby maintaining traditional agro-biodiversity and enhancing integrated ecosystems’ multi-functioning.

Saffron has been popularized in contemporary times due to the spread of the Kashmiri population to major cities like Delhi where the agglomeration has propagated the fondness for the kahwa beverage. Lightly flavored with saffron threads, the green tea’s fresh warm odor emitted due to the inclusion of various ingredients like cinnamon and cardamom, the pleasant taste holds a history of lands separated by conflict. The exquisite beverage is perfect to take in a fresh breath of life on a cold winter evening. Time to stock up the samovars!

Caffeine free Tea and coffee- the American way!

Angshuman Paul , Tea-entrepreneur & tea estate owner, Girish Chandra Tea Estate, A.C Paul Agricultural Company

Caffeine free tea

 

 

 

 

 

Caffeine free tea in India

You can bond with America in many ways (even obesity) but when it comes to a cup of tea or coffee, Americans are beckoned by the caffeine-free concept. In a couple of National Parks, caffeine-free coffee cafes are attracting huge audiences. It was a delight to be in the Wright Brothers National Memorial Park in North Carolina and I enjoyed my first cup of caffeine free coffee in a nearby cafe. These coffees are sold by highlighting the eco-friendly concept. For someone who belongs to the tea-fraternity and understands the entire production process in and out, I frowned on how tea can be without caffeine? The hilarious part was that my host in North Carolina - Pinaki Dutta, who by birth is Indian - claims that herbal tea is caffeine free tea.

Interestingly, "white coffee" is made from orange blossom water and uses less quantity of coffee (but still I couldn't make out how it could be caffeine-free). My initial indulgence with this so-called caffeine-free white coffee was after my long journey from the Luray Cavern and amidst the enticing coffee aromas in the snack bar. The evening couldn't have been planned better. Back to work in Washington D.C I missed my white coffee and was mesmerized in the meditation centre of hotel Hilton, which welcomes you with a nice cup of caffeine free tea. A blend of American and Indian - some premium caffeine free tea blends, Indian mediation, and American branding – caffeine-free! Sounds heavenly indeed!

Herbal Tea

But if I keep the debate of feasibility of caffeine-free tea & coffee aside, then certain caffeine-free hot drinks are overwhelming. Here are a few of my recommendations. Herbal Tea – made perfectly from hibiscus, mint, or chamomile – are a delightful indulgence. Then caffeine-free coffee - Rooibos - is available in all departmental stores (some of them even sell with a Made in India tag). If you are guessing what is Rooibos, it's a naturally sweet, woody, tobacco-flavoured beverage, making it a good alternative to coffee. I was also delighted to experience Ginger Honey Lemon Tea Tonic (as it uses extracts from tea), offered in Bern's & Noble book store and perfect for chilly rainy days, and particularly soothing for sore throats. While I personally cherished these varieties due to the novelty factor, the Americans seem quite hooked to the 'caffeine-free' concept. As they say - different strokes for different folks!

Peppy & Spicy

Kavitha Srinivasa

Honestly, this blog post should have happened earlier. I mean, what else can I say about this blog on pepper; one of our most commonly used ones in the spice jar? More so, as black pepper is hailed as the King of Spices. Peppercorns were often referred to as “black gold” and used as a form of commodity money. Yet it took quite some time to get going on this peppery path. Pardon me for this.

Ok, without wasting much time, let me get started. This blog will look at black, white, and green pepper, all of which trace their origin to the woody tropical plant Piper nigrum. Incidentally, Piper nigrum is the name given to long pepper.

As far as India is concerned, pepper is grown in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Pondicherry. India is one of the largest producers and consumers of pepper in the world. As per the Spices Board website, Kerala State accounts for 97.4 percent of the total area under the crop in the country.

Pepper itself is pungent and black pepper has the highest pungency level among the three varieties. Black pepper is the unripe green fruit that is fermented and sun-dried. This is used in almost all Indian cuisines, either in the whole form or ground version, or blended with other spices. “Pepper is the least harmful spice, despite its pungency level. This is why even Sattvic cuisine which is not overly spiced uses pepper, said Krishna Shantakumar, General Manager, Aswati Group, which owns fine dining restaurants like Ebony and On the Edge in Bengaluru “A few peppercorns are thrown into the meal of dietary patients. We also use a pinch of pepper in salads and with fruits like banana and pineapple,” he added.

When the pepper berries are picked fully ripe, dried, and husked, it results in white pepper, which is extensively used in Continental cooking and in creamy soups. On the other hand, when the berries are picked before maturity and dried, we end up with green peppercorns. Green pepper is slightly crunchy and is used in pickles.

Regardless of the pepper type, generally speaking, the fiery, peppery flavor of pepper is known to add enough punch to any dish. Actually, when you think of it, chili and pepper are both hot but pepper can be singled out for its unique hot sensation which can be attributed to the resin called chavicine that it contains. Then pepper also has a volatile oil called piperine, whose essence is lost when dry pepper is exposed to the sun. The effect as you guessed is far from peppery.

Undoubtedly whole peppers are tossed with a few other spices for flavor. But it’s also true that ground pepper has been used as traditional medicine. “Pepper is a good digestive. Besides that, pepper is probably the very first spice that an infant is treated to,” explained Shantakumar.

This has been customary since ancient times. Ah, ancient times remind me of the maritime sea routes. Like all other Indian spices, pepper too made its way from India to the western world through sea trade. Proof, well let me tell you, I was surprised to note that Apicius’ De re Coquinaria, a third-century cookbook from Rome mentions pepper as one of the ingredients in its recipes. It is believed that the Gothic king Alaric agreed to lift the siege of Rome provided he was given 3,000 pounds of Indian pepper. To think of it, pepper has been a rich man’s choice, unlike cloves and cinnamon. Incidentally at that time pepper meant long peppercorns, which looked like brownish-black spikes. These peppercorns were later replaced by the round ones which we now use today.

“Pepper is a natural preservative. Before the refrigerator-era, when people ate dishes that contained coconut, after the meal, fresh pepper was added to the dish and boiled again before it was cooled and preserved,” concluded Shantakumar.

Of course, today pepper denotes other variants such as bell pepper. And how can we forget pepper mortars or the salt-pepper disposable shakers that adorn our dining tables?

On another note, an individual sporting a salt and pepper beard invariably brings a twinkle in the eye.

Purple tea potential in Assam

Dr. Pradip Baruah, Senior Advisory Officer (Principal Scientist), Tocklai Tea Research Institute, Jorhat, Assam

Dr. Pradip Baruah is a known name in the Indian tea fraternity and has done extensive research on the Assam tea industry. In this interaction with IBEF, he discusses the potential of purple tea production in Assam and the efforts being undertaken to leverage the same.

IBEF: What are the key health properties of purple tea and what practices need to be adopted for the manufacturing of this variety of tea?

Dr. Pradip Baruah: Purple tea offers a totally new type of tea to the world, which is very attractive with a unique color of the liquor and has many medicinal properties. Purple tea contains anthocyanins, which imparts the purple color to the tea leaves. It thus has all the goodness of tea, with additional health benefits of anthocyanins. It is also low in caffeine content than the normal black or green teas which is particularly looked for by many people. It offers an excellent new diversified product to the tea consumers around the world besides black, green, and white teas with certain high medicinal properties beneficial to human health. Purple tea can be manufactured both as black and green teas with purple-colored tea leaves.

Anthocyanins are flavonoids rendering vivid red to a blue color to fruits and vegetables. Research studies and human clinical trials suggest that anthocyanins possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activity, cardiovascular disease prevention, obesity control, and diabetes alleviation properties, which are associated mostly with their potent antioxidant property. Out of these, cardiovascular disease prevention property is particularly significant. Anthocyanins appear to control cholesterol levels and blood sugar metabolism, as well as fight oxidative stress (a process known to play a key role in heart disease). Some of the important findings of the research on medicinal properties of purple tea presented at the ‘International Conference on Tea Science and Development’ at the Karatina University, Karatina, Kenya last year was – purple tea, besides being rich in anthocyanins also contains lower catechins and caffeine, and is high in antioxidant effects that provide anti-cancer benefits, and improves vision, cholesterol and blood sugar metabolism. Overall, purple tea is found to have cytoprotective effects on external oxidative stressors. In addition, purple tea also has all other enormous medicinal properties of tea, being produced from Camellia assamica.

Anthocyanin supplements are marketed for their health-enhancing properties and are also used as preservatives in the food industry. Purple tea plants with anthocyanin content will, thus, provide an alternative raw material from which these flavonoids can be extracted.

Purple tea potential in Assam

IBEF: Tell us about the potential of Assam to produce purple tea? How can it be leveraged going forward and how can the area under production be increased?

Dr. Pradip Baruah: The purple tea clone released in Kenya for commercial cultivation in Kenya, as TRFK 306 in 2011, was selected from the germplasm stock of Tea Research Foundation of Kenya. This important clone for Kenyan tea was originally selected from Assam and is an Assam variety. Such anthocyanin-rich purple teas are also found in Assam and wild purple teas were recently discovered in Karbi Anglong Hill district of Assam. I am informed of the availability of more such plants in Karbi Anglong Hills near Bokajan. But that area is yet to be visited. Such plants are also available in different tea growing areas of Assam, which are commonly known as ‘oxblood’, because of the color. I have been exploring tea growing areas of Upper Assam and found such purple tea plants in an area near Teok, close to Jorhat town, and another few plants near Dibrugarh. Newspaper reports at the national and international level on the possibility of producing purple tea in Assam have now generated tremendous curiosity and hope among the tea planters and small tea growers of Eastern India. They are eagerly waiting for the right kind of purple tea clone with high anthocyanin content to be available to them so that they can start production.

Tocklai germplasm collection already has several purple tea plants. The Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat, tea area also has purple tea plants in it. This area and the plants originally belonged to Tocklai. The scientists have to explore these for their properties and release the best possible plants from these and collections from the wild teas and old tea growing areas, for facilitating commercial production of purple tea, in the near future. Assam being the origin of naturally growing purple tea plants in diversified forms and also has all the favorable agro-climatic conditions, it is well suited for the best growth and production of promising purple tea clones. There is a possibility of even finding better plants naturally growing, in Assam- an area that is not yet explored fully. The particular clone, released by Kenya (TRFK-306) was under development by Kenyan Tea Research Institute for 25 years, but in the case of Assam, it has the advantage of being the origin of tea with large biodiversity and with the possibility of finding even better plants for purple tea production. As the demand for purple tea is likely to increase in India and globally with the better promotion in the near future, the production of purple tea can be taken up by both large and small tea estates. With all these advantages and possibilities, I am chasing a purple dream for the tea industry of India and I am very confident that it would come true very soon benefiting the entire humanity of the world with its medicinal properties. Not only purple tea – Assam and the Eastern India tea have great potential with traditional and handmade organic teas produced by the tribes and the small tea growers which are having exceptionally good qualities.

Purple tea plants in Assam

IBEF: Tell us about the role that the Tocklai Tea Research Institute has played through its R&D initiatives towards improving crop outcomes and farmer income across tea plantations.

Dr. Pradeep Baruah: Tea Research Association is an autonomous R&D organization funded by the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India, and the tea industry and is one of the oldest organizations in PPP mode since 1964.

Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TTRI, earlier known as Tocklai Experimental Station) is the oldest and premier institution on tea research in the world, established way back in 1911. Over the years, exhaustive research has been carried out in the fields of integrated nutrient management, agronomic practices for young and mature tea crop management including optimum pruning cycles, efficient chemical and biological control measures and testing of new molecules and for bio-efficacy against the major pests and diseases, plant physiology, biochemistry, the establishment of limits for pesticide residues and heavy metals, drainage management strategies, mechanization in tea, tea processing and manufacturing, and development tea by-products, etc. It has also carried out DNA fingerprinting using RAPD techniques in TV clones developed at Tocklai and their registration with the National Bureau of Plant Genetics in the country to protect their identity. Looking at the impact of climate change touching the tea industry also in North East India, Tocklai is working on the identification of physiological parameters influencing drought resistance and in identifying promising drought-resistant germplasm.

One of the major activities of the Tea Research Association popularly known as ‘Tocklai’ has been the strong Advisory Department spread across the major tea growing areas of Eastern India in eight zones. The Advisory officers keep visiting the various tea estates in their areas and provide on the spot advisories on immediate, short term and long term measures to be adopted by the tea estates with regard to various problems faced by them on-field management and to achieve sustainability. These visits and the regular bulletins issued on the practices to be adopted in-field management practices help the tea estates to undertake timely measures on maintaining the tea estate and to boost the tea productivity of the tea estates. Besides attending to the big tea estates, Tocklai supports the small tea growers also to get the awareness of the appropriate cultural practices to be followed to achieve higher tea yields from their small gardens and achieve higher income generation from tea.

However, the major contribution of Tocklai to the tea industry in North East India has been the development and release of high yielding clones and seed stocks for Assam, Dooars and Darjeeling which has helped the industry to improve the total tea production in North East India significantly. To indicate as an example, just in Assam valley the tea production has increased from 201 million kg in 1971 to 574 million kg in 2013.

Temi, tea & Sikkim

Just outside my home state is the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and in this state, most of the rural population depends, directly and indirectly, on small-scale food crop agriculture, fishery, or rural wage labor associated with tea plantations. Located in South Sikkim, the Temi Tea Garden in Ravangla was established in 1969 by the Government of Sikkim. The grading of tea from Temi Tea Garden is of top quality tea, generating huge demand in the international market. The British traditions of making and taking tea have little relevance in Sikkim as tea plantations here are a post-independence affair. So, it may be succinctly observed that unlike the British cup of tea, tea in Sikkim is not served in a setting where the leaves are steeped separately. Rather, tea here is consumed with both milk and sugar, and the tea leaves are not prepared separately by being steeped. Instead, the tea leaves are boiled along with additions and then boiled again after the addition of milk, sugar, and spices like cardamom and cinnamon.

There are many other popular variations of Sikkim tea depending on regional affiliations. Like in Hee Gaon (an indigenous village in West Sikkim), popular tea is brewed with Seremna (an intensive cardamom seed found only in Hee Gaon). My journey to Hee Gaon & Temi Tea Garden made me realize that all tea produced here are organic. In growing organic tea, agro-chemicals are avoided by the tea estates and that results in low production costs. There are losses incurred on the other hand due to lower realization, but the result is a much healthier cup of tea. Many European countries have shown a strong preference for tea produced by adopting the organic manuring method in Sikkim.

The floral composition of the tea estates in Sikkim is also exclusive as it consists of broadleaf vegetation comprising UttisKattus, and Malata. Temi Tea estate’s surroundings and approach road have also been made more scenic by planting pine, prunes, and cherry trees. In Hee Gaon and certain areas of West Sikkim, large cardamom plantations are also present in forest patches in the vicinity of the tea estate. Sikkim Solja, Mystique, and Kanchanjunga Tea are some of the popular brands of tea from Sikkim. The Tea Board has already started exporting Sikkim tea to Canada and Japan in small quantities at attractive prices. Its export potential is gradually increasing and the Tea Board is making efforts to have direct links with international markets. So it’s not surprising that Temi Tea is sold in the international market at prices that go up to Rs 2,500 per kg (US$ 50 per kg). That’s the international scenario, coming back to tea-drinkers like us, let me tell you that Sikkim tea is indeed unique for its quality and its vigor can be best felt with an infusion of cardamom & cinnamon. On the whole Sikkim’s tea gardens are a perfect treat for the five senses.

Spicy n Soapy

Kavitha Srinivasa

A hint of cardamom essential oil can do wonders to a bar of soap. It adds color, an undeniable spicy flavor, and above all, it’s a decadent lingering feeling. Described as the Queen of Spices, soap makers tap the antioxidant properties of cardamom to full use.

Yes, friends, we are talking about spice oils and extracts which have made their way into soap making or ‘saponification,’ as the process is officially known.

It’s anyone’s guess why these spice oils or extracts go into soaps. They are aromatic, natural colorants and rub in healing properties as well. All it requires is a hint of imagination to mix-n-match spice extracts with essential oils, to create a signature line of colorful, fragrant handcrafted soaps that package an olfactory experience with indulgence.

For instance, Haldi or turmeric which adds a characteristic color to the soap is sought after for its ability to heal and prevent dry skin. That’s just one example. Players in the bath soap segment are reviving the ancient ayurvedic techniques of soap formulations using spice extracts and herbs. With the result, many of our kitchen spices are being processed in an industrialized manner. “Spice extracts are beneficial to the skin. For centuries they are being used for their medicinal properties. Some of the popular spice extracts include turmeric, strands of saffron and black pepper,” said Amit Sarda, managing director Soulflower, India’s leading company of natural cosmetics made with spice, herbs, fresh produce, and essential oils.

Spices are not just meant to add fragrance or pep up your spirits, but make the bathing experience a truly cleansing one. And in many cases, these spices have not been tweaked. There’s no such thing as ‘expect the unexpected.’ Having said that, let me tell you, the combination of spice ingredients makes these soaps interesting. “Star anise is a good scrub and black pepper oil is used for body massages as it is suited for backaches. Likewise, some amount of cumin in the soap is good for inhaling,” added Sarda.

Many entrepreneurs have created a market for aromatic-relaxing soaps. A case in point is Bangalore-based Ahalya Matthan, whose company Ally Matthan Creations Pvt. Ltd. manufactures an ingrown label Areev that maximizes the use of locally grown ingredients in all its natural and handmade bath and skin products. “We use a number of locally available extracts of spices like Clove leaf oil, clove bud oil, cinnamon oil, cardamom oil, aniseed oil, green pepper oil, and turmeric oil, said Ahalya Matthan, founder Ally Matthan Creations Pvt. Ltd. Though a perfumer trained at Versailles, she makes soaps using essential oils, spice extracts, and oils.

Matthan believes that what you feed your skin and hair with, should be as good and if not better than what you feed your body. “To this effect, all the spice oils that we used to show remarkable efficiency in skincare, for example, turmeric oil in a massage oil or cream evens out skin tone and reduces blemishes without imparting the harsh yellow color,” she added.

On this note, we open up the spice jar for soap makers. Nutmeg Oil adds warmth to the soaps while vanilla is fragrant and comforting.

As ginger is a root, the common belief is that it can be classified as a spice. The ginger extract works really well in combination with citrus essential oils. Ginger contains several antioxidants that rejuvenate aging skin by removing toxins and improving circulation, resulting in the delivery of more nutrients to your skin. Anti-oxidants prevent damage from free radicals, preserving the elasticity and thus the youthful appearance of skin.

Apart from all this, is the added bonus of a wonderful natural fragrance. Yes, we agree. In fact, bubble baths are incomplete without herbs and relaxing spice oils. Manufacturers have elevated soaps to a luxury product. Individually wrapped, soap makers blend spices with cocoa-shea butter, essential oils, and floral extracts.

Time has come when handcrafted soaps are imaginatively designed and almost look edible.