Tea sommelier Neetu Sarin, who ventured into the business of blending, packaging and retailing quality teas in the Indian market, comes across as an unconventional entrepreneur in the trade. While it is emerging as a lucrative business opportunity, Neetu took the plunge purely due to her passion for tea.
It all started when Neetu shifted to Belgium over two decades ago. While she maintained a preference for tea with milk, she disliked the taste of the milk served there. This propelled her to shift to black tea. Once she started consuming black tea, she got interested in the finer nuances of different tea varieties in general and green tea in particular. Neetu became a frequent visitor to the Mariage Frères Tea House, a popular French tea café that was set up in the 18th century, as she developed a strong liking for the quality of their tea blends that had natural ingredients.
Initially, Neetu started by developing some tea blends of her own and giving them to friends and family when she came to Bangalore. The enthusiastic response to these blends encouraged her to convert her passion into a full-fledged venture and Tea of Life came into being in 2010.
Today, the company sources quality whole leaf green tea and oolong tea from selective tea estates in India and creates its own special infusions. Neetu feels that some of the green teas currently grown in India are at par with the best in the world. These teas are retailed at lifestyle stores, hotels and restaurants in Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. They have also ventured into corporate gifting. Neetu also does a number of tea appreciation and tea tasting workshops, where she also emphasises on the health benefits of tea to the audience and also enlightens them on how different teas need to be prepared.
Tea of Life also markets flavoured teas - from simple flavours like mint and orange to more complex ones like rooibos. A conventional thought process in the industry with respect to flavoured tea is to keep the flavour strong enough to overwhelm the tea itself. Neetu, however, has begged to differ and placed greater emphasis on the tea itself. She admits, "Earlier, people used to tell me that my tea has no flavours, but they later started appreciating the subtleties of the flavour."
Through her venture, Neetu is successfully catering to a niche but fast growing audience in India that is appreciative of the health benefits of tea and also keen to sample exotic varieties. But her greatest gain from this venture is the opportunity to pursue her passion for tea. She tells us about her life mantra, "It is very important to have a passion in life. Then you are enjoying what you are doing and you are not doing it for any rat race or to prove anything to anybody."