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The French define Sommelier as an individual who specializes in matching a certain wine on the menu with the right kind of food to go with in a restaurant. While wine – sommeliers have been around since quite a long time, Snigdha Manchanda went out of the conventional way to become one of India’s youngest Tea-Sommelier at the age of 29.
Following her passion for tea, she went on to attend a professional school of teas in Sri Lanka, where she rigorously trained under a Japanese Tea Master, tasting around 100 cups of tea everyday and profiling more than 2000 varieties of the same. After conducting several tea-tasting workshops across the country, Snigdha started Tea Trunk as a medium to provide people with good-quality tea.
She also founded Story Ninja, through which she reaches out to content creators, marketers, teachers, entrepreneurs or just about any one who enjoys a story well told. She conducts workshops focusing on understanding patterns in storytelling, story building & narrative techniques and digital storytelling.
Hear about her eventful journey of making tea and telling stories for a living, from Snigdha herself.
Q)How did your fascination for tea start?How did you become interested in an offbeat, interesting and unconventional career such as this?
A)Tea had been a ritual for over a decade. Even before I formally decided to study Tea, it was a very big part of my life. My father who worked at ONGC at the time was posted in Assam and in the early 90’s brought me a pack of green tea that opened up my world. I had teas from Kenya, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Korea – and while I had a great collection, I barely knew anything about it.
In the morning, my mother always had two kettles boiling on the stove. Tea boiled in one, while the other had anything from carom seeds to leftover mint leaves from the previous night or lemongrass boiling inside. My sister and I would dutifully sip on the resultant herb-infused concoction throughout the day after our morning cup of tea. I consider this as the earliest association with my favorite beverage. I also recall times when my mother returned home from Assam with teas and fresh memories of visits to tea estates.
Q)In a country where everybody wants you to be a doctor or an engineer, how was your decision of being a tea sommelier received by the people around you?
A)In a country that has recently come to terms with the concept of a wine sommelier, the idea of a tea sommelier seems far-fetched. However, this is mindset is changing gradually. People now appreciate creative careers much more than they did a couple of decades ago. There is no better time than now to do what you enjoy doing the most.
Q)What was it like to study at Colombo for a month to be a tea-sommelier? How did you find an unconventional course such as this and what was your favourite part of the whole experience?
A)At the academy, life began at five in the morning with plucking tea, processing it, tasting, brewing and hand blending. We had to taste 100 cups of different teas each day from a long table lined with teacups. We would then spit it out into this colonial-looking brass spittoon. The task was to taste each tea and write out a flavour profile. We would start out in the morning and had to reach the final cup before the end of the day.
My favorite part of this experience of course tasting teas! Working on your palate is a deep meditative process and requires you to gather all your senses and energy. For me, it’s almost a spiritual experience. It requires me to slow down and focus all energy into those few seconds when the tea is rolling on my palate. It’s a process to isolate the flavor notes ranging from the front of the palate to the back, culminating in the finish.
Q)Tell us more about about Story Ninja. What is the basic concept it revolves around and where you see it in the near future?
A) Story Ninja aims at working with Entrepreneurs and Brands to extend the reach of ideas through Storytelling. I believe that talking, sharing and writing is not the same as telling a story. Great ideas crash and grand communications fail without a Story Spine. That’s where the Story Ninja comes in. At Story Ninja, I adapt storytelling techniques in digital campaigns to design content strategies as well as leverage stories to help individuals and companies craft their bios.
Over time, I’ve worked with ad agencies and helped create social media strategies for a leading group of luxury hotels, a celebrity charity, banks, insurance companies and popular fashion labels.
As far as the future of Story Ninja goes, I wish to develop learning aids for the art of storytelling. In the last one year, over several cups of tea, I have been exploring toys and games that could teach the basics of storytelling creating a fun learning experience.
Q)Mandatory last question. What is your favourite type of tea and why?
A) Your choice of tea reflects your individuality. No two people are alike. Hence, there is no one tea which is good for all. I can share my personal favourite and encourage people to try them out and experience which teas they like. My favourite tea is Rose Oolong. The complex flavour profile of an Oolong tea is a mix between black and green tea. Infused with real rose buds, Chinese medicine describes this combination as “Tea of Beauty” for its many benefits on skin and overall detoxification.