Tea in the Himachal

What if you have always wanted to have a cup of tea that smelt like rose, tasted like vanilla and looked like a whiskey. This is what a restaurateur in Adelaide, Australia had wanted. He was lucky enough to know Anamika Singh and she quickly whipped up a fusion of rooibos, rose petals, vanilla and oolong tea  – voila, the tea you always wanted. Now imagine if you once took a trip to Kashmir and were left enchanted by the place. You yearn to recreate that feeling. Take a sip of “Firdaus” and find yourself ferried back to the valley. An orchestra of green tea with marigold flowers, red cockscomb flowers, cardamom and saffron, “Firdaus” is an Anamika favorite. She composed this after a trip to the serene Aru Valley near Pahalgam, Kashmir.

Let us now take you to the more mundane surroundings of a tea factory. The morning batch of tea production is done and you want to know what to change for the afternoon batch. Has the plucking been okay, do the leaves have too much moisture, has the firing gone for a tad too long at the factory. Enter the wonder woman that is Anamika. Part composer, part engineer, part sommelier – Anamika refuses to fit a slot. She believes that a true tea sommelier should be able to come up with new infusions as easily as instruct the factory team to make the changes necessary to get the next batch just perfect. And yes, detect flavors – those nutty, flowery, fruity ones too.

Most entrepreneurs have risk and returns on their mind, market share and margins in their conversations. Anamika  – well, she is just not that sort. Tea is truly the center of her life. Her perennial  smile and cheer masks an encyclopedic knowledge of teas and infusions.

Her initiation into this world was courtesy her father, Abhai Singh. Mr. Singh has now spent close to 50 years in the tea industry and has been frequently referred to as one of India’s best tea tasters. From Darjeeling to the Dooars to now the Kangra Valley, he has worked with and consulted with some of India’s best known estates.  Anamika grew up in Darjeeling of 1980s and formally joined the world of tea with an internship with J Thomas in the mid-90s.  The early 2000s signaled a new era for the Singhs with the family moving to Himachal Pradesh.  In quick time, the Manjhee Valley Estate was born – a 650 acre plantation nestled in the valley of the mighty Dhauladhars in Kangra.

The estate made a name for itself. Buyers came calling. Amongst them, the storied buying house – Mariage Freres from France. When the CEO, Mr. Kitti Cha Sangmanee tasted the 5 year aged tea of the estate, he could not help but be amazed. Rarely does tea age well beyond two years and this was truly exceptional.  There was a new entrant on the global tea high table. Manjhee now exports most of its production to overseas buyers.

2014 saw Anamika take the definitive step of creating a retail brand. Anandini Himalaya Tea, the store as well as the range of teas, was set up. Anandini sources teas both from India (Manjhee Valley in Kangra being one) and overseas (Taiwan, China, Japan, South Africa).  Anamika also works with small farmers in Himachal Pradesh to get them to supply high quality infusions such as flowers and spices.

With her serious and continued efforts towards educating the chai drinking Indian public to try her speciality teas, Anamika and by extension, Anandini Himalaya Tea have made quick strides in India’s tea pantheon.  With names as evocative as Sunshine Waltz and Mistletoe Kisses, her teas now find a home in a lot of restaurants and spas. Even celebrity marriages now feature Anandini teas – as Shahid Kapoor’s wedding just did.

She is now on to her next idea – that of bringing not just the tea, but the romance of the tea estate right to you. How would you like to  go through the entire process of tea making while being guided by one of India’s best tea sommeliers. Well get ready as that is indeed Anamika’s next venture as she identifies estates in Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura, in addition to the more well known destinations, to enchant and educate you. One part engineer, one part composer, one part tea taster and now one part ambassador. Maybe that is indeed a perfect brew.

Just goes to say – you just need to find your passion. And then maybe you too discover that you are a wonder woman or a superman.

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