Assam's tea coins become popular in Europe and SE Asia
Organic tea coins made by a tribal community in Assam are becoming popular in Europe and Southeast Asian countries with people preferring them increasingly to conventional tea bags.
'The demand for the organic tea coin is increasing by the day after we were able to penetrate markets in the US, Britain, Canada, China, Thailand, and now in Hong Kong,' Rajesh Singpho, owner of Singpho Agro Products that manufactures the organic tea coins, told IANS.
Packed in silver foils, the tea coins come in a neat pack of two grams, five grams and 10 grams and are ready to use - dip the coin into a pot of hot water and it is ready to drink.
'The ratio is one is to four - you can get four cups of strong tea by dipping a coin weighing two grams,' Singpho said.
'People in Europe and other Southeast Asian nations are increasingly health conscious and would rather prefer organic Indian tea to the conventional tea.'
Spread over an area of about nine hectares of land in Margherita, 540 km east of Assam's main city Guwahati, Singpho and his 100-odd workforce toil hard to produce about 90,000 kg of organic tea annually.
'The entire process of manufacturing the tea is done in a traditional manner without the use of any machines or gadgets. It is all done manually,' Singpho said.
The Singpho tribe in Assam and the adjoining state of Arunachal Pradesh, now numbering about 25,000, is believed to have first discovered tea bushes.
In the late 1830s, long before the commercial production of tea started in India, the tea plant was growing wild in the jungles of Assam.
Singpho tribes people ate the leaves as a vegetable with garlic, besides drinking the brew after dipping the leaves in boiled water.
'We are fetching a price of Rs.1,000 (over $20) per kg of the tea we make. We sell it loose and also in the form of coins,' Singpho said.
The tea is sold under the brand name Phalap (meaning tea in the Singpho language). The loose tea is packed in bamboo containers so that the traditional properties are maintained and it is free from any preservatives or chemicals.
'We are getting orders for 2,000 kg of tea coins from Hong Kong. We are now working overtime to meet the demand,' the young tea planter said.
India is the world's second largest tea producer after China and produced 962 million kg in 2008 compared to 945 million kg the previous year. Assam accounted for 55 percent of the total output, most of it conventional tea.
A kilogram of premium quality Assam tea fetched Rs.90 in the latest weekly auctions.