Master Tea Taster Sanjay Kapur talks to Naressa Coutinho as she finds out about this rare profession of tea tasting from a Tea connoisseur. Sanjay Kapur is an Executive Committee member of the International Society of Tea Sciences with over 40 years of experience and is the owner of the famous and widely exported tea brand ‘SAN-CHA’
One word that I imagine would have resonated through the India sub-continent and the still-waking lips of some 1.2 billion people this morning, like most other mornings, is ‘Chai’. Besides being the second largest producer and exporter of tea in the world, India is also the largest consumer of tea. Of the commonly known varieties, we may prefer either the more traditional black blended teas that are taken with milk or the flavoured teas with hints of spices like ginger, cardamom and cinnamon or the aromatic selections of jasmine and rose. However, you would be surprised at the unthinkable range of teas that are continually being prepared, tried and tested in the tea industry. For many of us a good cup of tea can become the readily available elixir of our day. Judging by the importance we give to this hot beverage, the job of a tea taster would then be nothing short of patriotic.
Sanjay Kapur, Master Tea Taster, blender and owner of the famous tea brand SAN-CHA, refers to tea as the jewel of India. Prior to independence, it was the British East India Company that introduced methods of tea production on the Indian slopes. “The tea industry,” he says “is the most professionally manned, using the best of technology and every little aspect of research to constantly move ahead.” However, owing to the boom in the tertiary sector, the tea industry has not been able to get a slice of the best talents out there.
His forty years of experience in the tea industry has taught Kapur that to become a good tea taster, one must also be a tea planter. After passing out from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies in Mumbai, his own career began in the sprawling tea plantations of West Bengal where he received firsthand experience in the cultivation, production and tea tasting processes. “It is something else,” he says, “living on a tea plantation. I enjoyed the lifestyle, the clean air, the outdoor life, which was so different from the city.”
The Indian Institute of Plantation Management (IIPM) in Bangalore prepares students for a career in the plantation of tea, coffee and rubber. One may even join agricultural universities that educate students on subjects of botany, labour management, basic chemistry, tea production and the use of pesticides and fertilizers. However, the best lessons are learnt on the job and so students are advised to take up opportunities where they can work on plantations, some of which are located in Kerala, Kolkata and Assam. Tea planters understand the various types of plants, the regions they are produced in, varying flavours of different terroirs and basically know the difference between good tea and bad tea. “A prerequisite for the job of tea taster is that he must have highly sensitive senses of taste and smell, to help him recognize and distinguish from the countless flavours and aromas,” advises Kapur. He also points out that while you may begin at a junior management level, with the required experience and skill you can quickly rise up the ladder to becoming an assistant manager of a tea estate. The scope is immense and the opportunities are plenty.
Today SAN-CHA has grown to become one of the finest international tea brands, exporting to different regions of the world and having three showrooms in Delhi and two in Mumbai with a extensive variety of gourmet teas to choose from. Their tea tasters work towards creating new flavours and styles. It seems as if the job of a tea taster is not that easy and one has to pay particular attention to detail to tea blends, to the science and the art of preparation.
“There are many factors that affect tea production,” he explains, “The quality of tea can never be compromised and so one has to be mindful of the right ingredients, weather changes that may affect the crop, requiring one to even hunt for good produce from other regions to ensure consistency.”
Finally, Kapur is reminded of a question that the institute’s director once asked the students in his class. How would you define job satisfaction? After everyone had given their answers, the director said, “Job satisfaction, then, is eventually the lifestyle you lead at night or in the evening after work”.
Working at the tea plantations, free of pollution and far from the hustle and bustle of the city was the lifestyle that Master Tea Taster Sanjay Kapur aspired for.
Is this the career that can brew a good cup of life for you?