In 1973 my sister Mithoo was at Fortnum & Mason (London’s snobbiest grocery store) promoting Indian tea when an American walked up to her and asked, “Do you have a tea that tastes like a peach?”
My sis was stumped. She had never heard of a peach-flavored tea. You may want to remember, dear reader, this was the early 70’s when tea was still tea and a peach was still a peach and nobody ever dreamed they would become kissing cousins.
My sister suggested somewhat inanely, “Why don’t you just eat a peach, instead?” The man looked confused and walked away, leaving her equally confused. She was not trying to be clever or sass the man. You must remember the idea of a tea tasting like anything other than what it was supposed to, was absurd. Assam and Darjeeling, the two famous Indian teas had their own distinct flavors. It just was not proppa for an aristocratic beverage like tea to hobnob with fruity commoners back then.
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? Not only do we now have a tea that tastes like a peach (besides a hundred other mind-boggling flavors) but for all I know we may even have a peach that tastes like a tea! We live in a blended world of crossovers and amalgamation. Anything goes.
My sister Mithoo was a Tea Board girl. They were glamorous envoys sent out into the world to promote Indian tea. Sis travelled extensively in UK and Scandinavia doing tea promos and sampling at trade shows, summer camps and high-end retail stores. The Tea Board Girls were always in the media, hobnobbing with celebrities. It was a PR job. They created quite a stir where ever they went. A tiny town in Norway declared it a school holiday so that the kinds could come out to see the Indian beauties in their stunning sarees. They had never seen anything quite like them.
India never dreamed she would one day have to market her teas. The best tea in the world was expected to sell itself by virtue of its superiority. But that did not happen
Things started to change in the 1960’s and 70’s when many tea plantations came under Indian ownership. The British left India and took their tea expertise and business acumen with them. Tea exports began a downward slide and India woke up only too late to realize she was losing valuable market share to Ceylon. Ceylon Tea had marketing savvy and branded their teas with a distinctive lion logo. They gained further mileage when Lipton Yellow Label (a popular blended tea) started implementing the lion logo on their packaging. India Tea needed a brand identity and that is how the tea plucker logo came into being. Recently this logo has been criticized as being outdated and sexist. To show a woman with a basket of tea on her head implies backwardness and servility of women, according to some people. Now there are talks about rebranding Indian tea. Some marketing genius in India has suggested the visual of a peacock sipping tea. What a dreadful thought!
Here is a fun link: Lipton Yellow Label Commercial: Theanine– a caffeine like ingredient in tea–is believed to sharpen the mind. This is why some of the world’s greatest creators drink tea when they are working. Do you?
Teatime for the Firefly is Shona Patel’s debut novel. It is a love story set in a remote tea plantation in Assam, India. You can read the SYNOPSIS and the FIRST CHAPTER by clicking on the red links. Shona Patel is represented by April Eberhardt Literary.
A peacock sipping tea makes much more sense, Shona…Where would tea be without the peacocks who pick and drink it? You take it easy 🙂
Haha! The stupidity of the very thought kills me!!
Your blog today on the Evolution of Indian Tea made me laugh. It was a much needed boost after a very trying day. Thank you so much!
You are very welcome, Karen. What would happen to us if we never saw the funny side of things? You take it easy now!
Theanine… no wonder I need two cups of tea (sorry, Lipton. You’ll have to forgive me, I’m American) every morning when I write. Can’t do without it.
As for the woman picker…everybody knows a woman can’t be an expert at anything, Shona. Best to replace her with a silly, pretty bird. That totally makes sense. (snort!)
It seems we keep getting stuck on the Taj Mahal or a peacock when it comes to creating an Indian brand identity for a product. So passe!
Shona, I love your blog…got to see it because a friend of your sister Mihoo forwarded it. I live and write in Assam, though (I don’t know how to say this) I am a coffee drinker, not a tea addict! Met Mithoo again a month or so ago…she spoke about your novel. So looking forward to reading it. Hope we meet sometime!
How lovely to hear from you Mitra and many thanks to popping by my blog.
That was a brilliant post, Shona! I laughed when I read your sister’s response to the peach question, and I think that Lipton tea advert is the best ad I’ve ever seen, thank you for introducing it to me. If I try to work without tea my head goes fuzzy and I feel all confused.
I do believe tea helps clear the mind. The stress levels come down and everything become more manageable. Don’t know what I’d do without tea.
It’s so true, I honestly can’t imagine life without tea. What sort of a life would that be? Dreadful.
Your article that mentions your sister, Mithoo, being a Tea Board girl, “exotic creatures that created a stir wherever they went”, dates back to the time I met her in Assam when working with/for your Dad. She has always been exotic and has created a stir ever since I met her, several decades ago.
I am sure “Miss Exotic” will be tickled when she reads your comment Ravi!