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The Royal Family shop at Fortnum & Mason, London. The Queen buys her teas here. Her Royal Highness only drinks Earl Grey.

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?”

A Peach who wants to be a tea!! Flavored teas were unheard of in  the early 1970’s. America changed all that by introducing fruity and herbal teas. Strictly speaking these teas are not “real” teas but  decoctions or infusions.

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.

Tea Board Girls (my sister Mithoo on the left) promoting Indian Tea at the Pontin Holiday Camp, 1973. The “tea plucker” INDIA TEA logo (seen on the bus and umbrella) was created to give Indian tea a competitive edge abroad.

Tea sampling at F&M

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

Lion logo for Ceylon Tea

India Tea logo with tea plucker is reminiscent of the classic depiction of women in Mughal art.

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?

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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.

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