Storm in the tea cup!
English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Rooibos, peppermint or camomile served elegantly in dainty white porcelain, along with a three-tiered stand replete with cakes, éclair swans, delicate sandwiches, et al. The visual presentation element of the high-tea is gaining importance along with the quality and taste of the offerings in hotels today. Undoubtedly, as a beverage, tea is gathering steam and is also being celebrated in most hotels.
The desire for a wide array of teas can be attributed to increased awareness, wide travel and exposure. Anupam Banerjee, executive chef, Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore, reiterates, “In recent years, awareness about tea, its flavours, health benefits and varieties have increased. The most known teas in India were Assam and Darjeeling. Consumers now have the option of different tea brands like Dilmah, Twinings, Jing, Newby and Tetley that have entered India. Today, the discerning, well-travelled consumer has evolved from consuming traditional masala tea to many other lightly-brewed options.”
With more guests enjoying the tea experience, hoteliers, too, are getting more creative with their tea offerings. Stephen D’souza, F&B director, JW Marriott Hotel Mumbai Sahar, agrees. “The entire tea drinking experience in hotels has evolved over the years. Besides offering a range of flavoured teas, having an interesting tea setup and tea wares also adds to the enigma of the tea ritual.”
The wide selection of tea on offer at hotels is just the beginning. Apart from tea served during breakfast, hotels are, in fact, dedicating areas specifically for tea service. Afternoon tea is suddenly fashionable. Samrat Basu, head of sales, Newby India, elaborates, “The scenario has changed and now most five-star properties are showing a keen interest in creating exclusive tea lounges with a bouquet of offerings from across the globe including Chinese, Japanese and Kenyan tea.” Banerjee of Ritz-Carlton adds, “Most hotels have a lobby lounge or a coffee shop where they serve tea. We have the traditional Ritz-Carlton afternoon tea experience with Charlie service and a variety of tea with a formal tea display at guests’ disposal.”
Gone are the days when guests were satisfied with a cup of Darjeeling or Assam tea. Hotels are now serving the finest and even speciality ones. Speciality tea is in fact a burgeoning sector of the tea market, as guests today seek more variety and better quality tea. The Oberoi Gurgaon has Moroccan Mint Green Tea, Pure Ceylon Young Hyson Green Tea mixed with the sweet fragrance of peppermint leaves, Rose with French Vanilla, Green tea with jasmine flowers, and many more to wow every palate.
Ravitej Nath, executive chef, The Oberoi, Gurgaon, adds, “Guests can select from an array of 15 finest blends or enjoy a pot of the special Oberoi brew. While our afternoon tea ritual is quite traditional, there are certain innovations by the chef. We have included a selection of Indian savouries. Along with smoked salmon and vanilla scones, you can also enjoy crisp pea samosas or chicken tikka sandwiches.”
If the tea selection has increased in hotels, so has the paraphernalia in which it is served. Hotels are extremely particular about this and presentation is the key. Basu states, “Presentation is of utmost importance at the time of service and Newby provides continuous training to hotel F&B teams to improve their service standards.”
D’souza of JW Marriott says, “The aromas, colours of tea, the tea ware and the way it is served, all greatly contribute to the experience. The tea should have the right colour, temperature and the required accompaniments. Serving tea in China and transparent wares is in fashion and visually enticing for the drinker.” He further adds, “Fun, excitingly shaped teapots and teacups should be used. Glass teapots and cups are particularly nice for enjoying a flowering or blooming tea. However, the design of the teapot should serve the purpose of keeping the tea hot and should be easy to pour from.”
Hotels have realised the importance of tea and are looking to it as being a revenue grosser as well. Banerjee of Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore, concurs, “Tea has become an important element in F&B of hotels and is being served at multiple outlets now. At our Chinese Dimsum restaurant, The Lantern, we have crafted an exquisite tea menu; to encourage tea drinking, our first pour is on the house. At the lobby lounge, we use Narumi China and Wedgewood China which are premium varieties and enhance the whole tea experience. Also, each table gets a tea warmer to keep the teapot to maintain the right temperature.”
Tea is also considered to play a major part in merchandising for the patisserie or gourmet lounge in hotels. The trend is to place tea caddies and boxes in gift hampers and Newby offers a wide range.
Just as sommeliers guide guests about wines, hotels now have trained staff to assist in tea selection. Chef Ravitej Nath informs, “Our team recommends the choice of tea depending upon what the guest is in the mood for. Choosing a favourite blend from our large selection is always a delight, both for guests as well as our team.”
With guests becoming picky about their tea, hotels ensure that these are sourced from the best of gardens and suppliers. Mittals, Twinings and Hatikuli’s organic tea estate in Assam are favourites of The Oberoi, Gurgaon, whereas, when it comes to sourcing tea, JW Marriott (Sahar) stays with Newby only.
“The Newby range includes tea bags, a unique selection of loose-leaf pyramid infusers and loose-leaf teas in catering pouches, caddies and boxes. We offer flowering teas, Chinese black, green teas and oolongs, rare Indian black teas and South African Rooibos,” informs Basu.
A memorable tea experience in hotels can help them drive their profit margins. No wonder tea offerings have undergone a makeover and tea has regained its lost position among beverages.