Till a few years ago, it was quite inconceivable that vibrant Aparajita flowers or the blazing red Gudhal buds could be used as a substitute for tea leaves. The trend of violet, red, orange, and pink teas made from flowers are just Instagram gimmicks for their aesthetic appeal, or do they also have some health benefits? Tea is not just a beverage in India but an emotional circumvention, a respite. India being the second-largest producer of tea in the world is home to some of the best varieties and blends. Recent times, and especially the pandemic, have seen a shift in the tea-drinking culture. While Masala Tea remains the first love of the masses, the green tea drinking tribe is now switching to more innovative gourmet blends that offer greater health benefits and more exquisite taste.

Tea as a source of nutrition

According to celebrity nutrition expert Sandhya Gugnani, “The awareness and demand of artisanal tea, that is high quality and often mixed with flowers, dehydrated fruits, and natural flavours to create different blends is increasing year by year. Nevertheless, in the past few years, tea culture in India has undergone an evolution, And it’s not just supermarket aisles, but it has made its way to fine dining, e-commerce, and coffee chains as well. Similarly, matcha tea, another Japanese import trending in the market made from the finely-ground powder of a specially grown and processed green tea plant, is packed with antioxidants, helping drinkers detoxify naturally.”

“Apart from helping keep the body cool, these teas with added ingredients like orange peel, lemongrass, matcha, pomegranate, are known to have different health and wellness benefits. Besides, being low-calorie they help in boosting of immunity and are packed with vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. For example, Rose tea and Peach fruit tea help improve blood circulation and protect the skin, Orange and Tulsi tea increase immunity and Chamomile tea has sleep-inducing and calming properties.

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Defining artisanal tea

Defining artisanal tea is quite tricky. In the simplest terms, it can be described as handmade tea made by expert artisans, involving a degree of expertise and craftsmanship. Just by virtue of being an artisanal product does not ensure its quality. Bad quality leaves cannot be compensated with good artisanal skills.

Expert Sommelier and Tea Taster Anamika Singh, who is also the Founder and Director of Anandini Himalaya Tea says, “When you know the source/tea estate/tea farm and when you know the people who produce, manufacture it, I consider that to be artisanal. It’s like a bottle of wine. We always look for the name of the vineyard and the year. It’s the same with Tea! When you read the label and you do not see the name of the estate, rather one reads the region such as Darjeeling, Assam, Kangra, Nilgiri, that doesn’t classify as artisanal. Limited edition, handmade, small batches, seasonal, knowing the source, specially crafted, hand-blended, is artisanal. In Tea terminology, any blend or infusion that has Tea aka camelia Sinensis is classified as Tea. A blend that does not have Tea per se, is called a Tisane. So one can perhaps call a blend of only herbs and flowers and spices as Artisanal Tisane but definitely not Artisanal Tea.”

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Not just a beverage

People are no longer looking at tea as the sugar-loaded milky comfort drink. The pandemic in particular has changed the way we look at our cuppa. The focus has shifted to the healing aspect of tea. Sejal Pravin Purohit, Founder, Seven Spring Teas, believes that it has t healing impact considering how it is deeply interwoven in the cultural milieu. While drawing inspiration from Ayurveda she has worked with her R&D team to create blends that suit the current nutritional requirements of people. For example she has created blends that are infused with crushed dried flowers, leaves and peels to give healthy fortification to tea by infusing it with the goodness of orange, hibiscus, pomegranate, fennel, mallow flower, star anise, senna etc.

The pandemic has also seen a more than two-fold rise in the demand of herbal and artisanal teas. The term herbal tea is used to describe a drink not made with tea leaves but infusions of fruit, leaves, herbs, like rosehip, chamomile, hibiscus, bluepea, rooibos etc. They are termed as tisanes or herbal infusions to prevent confusion with “tea” made from the tea plant. They are also different from artesanal tea..

Pooja Goyal, Founder, Moksa-Expect Miracles believes that people have become more health conscious and what they are expecting from their drink is a lot more than just comfort. “The beverage which plays such a pivotal role in making or maring your mood should be infused with herbs and spices that take care of your well- being physically and emotionally. Considering the current COVID scenario, this becomes even more imperative. ”

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Why tea

After water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world with a history of over thousands of years. It is believed that tea drinking first began in the Yunnan province of China for medicinal purposes. Tea, whether black or green, oolong or artisanal or infused with herbs and spices has several health benefits. The rise of tea drinking culture around the world grew rapidly because of its merits and association with promoting a general sense of calmness without the ill-effects of alcohol. Several researches support the fact that tea is rich in antioxidants that reduce heart attack and stroke risk. It helps in muscle relaxation and being loaded with flavonoids, they fight inflammation.

It is important though to choose what goes in your cuppa wisely. Milk and sugar take away not just the benefits but also the subtle flavours. It is suggested to add lemon in green tea for better nutrition absorption and honey or cane sugar to fortify it with micronutrients and vitamin B-12.

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