Tea or ‘chai’ is integral to everyday life in India. Its ubiquity is unparalleled and its local variations endless. However, the indigenous varieties of masala or sweet-milky tea, while firmly cultural and definitely delicious, aren’t how this beverage was originally drunk. Much like a single malt whisky, ingredients that alter the taste profile were kept at a safe distance.
It’s this China-inspired, ‘straight-up’ tea that seems to be catching our collective fancy (along with all that green tea that’ll magically shed the kilos, of course). And it’s what Satori, a Bombay-based premium tea brand, focuses on. A traditional experience and interaction with a cup of tea made from the choicest local leaves.
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Satori takes you back to the roots of tea drinking with its premium single-origin offerings that are sourced directly from estates in India. The flavoured teas are only mixed with natural ingredients such as real lavender, orange and cinnamon and not any synthesised additives. The effect of this is apparent as soon as you open the box and take in the aroma. The neat packaging also make Satori’s tea boxes great candidates for gourmet gifting.
Apart from the rich taste itself, the quality of the teas is evidenced by the way the leaves open up after being steeped in water, and the fact that these leaves are good for up to 3 brews. I’m not trying to be cheap, I promise – reuse is very much a part of it with top quality loose leaf teas and I experienced this first hand at a traditional tea house in Shanghai too. I figure this will catch the fancy of the judicious Indian mind.
I had the chance to try three different teas from Satori’s range – white tea with lavender (Lavender Dream), green tea roasted in Japanese style (Hojicha) and a black tea from South India (Golden Twirl). Two of these teas were in a gift box, accompanied by two round glass cups. The box itself feels well-made too and a glance at the entire package sets the expectations high. Imagery and design is minimalist and modern, without resorting to something predictably lavish, which tends to be de rigeur for all things exotic and Indian. The former approach always scores high for me and is characteristic of the kind of indie, homegrown brands we love at Definitely Curry.
On removing the lids, aromas for each of the teas are pronounced and make no bones about their character. The Lavender Dream smells especially fresh and immediately transports you to a serene place. Hojicha would best be described as toasty, intense and nutty. Whereas Golden Twirl feels most familiar as the fragrance will remind you of a floral, orange pekoe. Consistent across the three teas is the long length of leaves, which is a great sign going into the brewing process.
Gift box packaging
The teas are double packed – copper coloured metal tin containing the leaves placed in a white paper box. The white outer box has brewing instructions and a brief description of the mood the tea intends to put you in. The glass cups round out the package nicely, making the gift box feel inviting, complete and quietly luxurious – which is ideal if you’re getting this for an occasion.
Isha Mehta, founder of Satori, is a trained tea professional and this initial interaction with the teas does give fair assurance that things have been well-considered to provide a fine product and experience. She is transparent in addressing all my questions and genuinely believes that the acts of preparing and drinking tea should be slow and tranquil.
Brewing a selection of Satori’s teas
Satori offer a total of 7 teas. The three I sampled cover the bases well – a white tea, green tea and black tea, going from least to most processed. I tasted each of them without any added milk or sugar – the preferred way of consumption to let the inherent flavours of the tea come through. I made sure I followed the instructions on the box as well as those in Satori’s brewing guide.
George Orwell in his essay “A Nice Cup of Tea” wrote: “Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.” While this was in context of English black tea, it does apply to all teas if sugar is generally viewed as masking the drink’s innate taste profile. We tend to like this purist approach, as we also highlighted in our detailed story on bean to bar chocolate in India.
The most satisfying part of brewing these teas, like with any high quality loose leaf tea, was to watch the leaves unfurl through a glass kettle. Compared with the experience of drinking tea-bag chai, seeing actual leaves at work feels good and makes for a closer bond with your cup. And it barely takes any extra effort. Onto some tasting notes then.
I preferred keeping brew time to the lower end of the recommended range for the first steep. This kept the balance of flavours good for my palate. Subsequent steeping led to a smoother taste graph, but flavour was well intact till the third steeping.
Lavender Dream – Silver needle white tea with Himalayan lavender
This tea was my outright favourite. White tea is the least processed form of tea and the young, unopened buds don’t undergo any oxidation. It results in delicate flavour and the feeling of freshness. It’s what I experienced with Lavender Dream. It has a pale yellow colour and subtle, natural sweetness to it. The aroma is really welcoming and calming and drinking it actually feels therapeutic. The punch of lavender really works and results in an uplifting drinking experience.
Hojicha – Roasted green tea
Hojicha was the big novelty, as I hadn’t heard of it before. A roasted green tea with origins in Japan- the description itself held promise. It takes some getting used to and the taste is almost unlike anything you’ve had before, but its toasty, intense nose and nutty flavour leave an impression. It’s a very stimulating tea; robust, but not bitter. Hojicha isn’t common in India, and it’s worth a shot owing to how different and interesting it is.
Golden Twirl – Nilgiri black tea
As the name suggests, the colour of the tea is golden. It is a mid-strength black tea – richly fragrant with evident floral notes. There is mild bitterness in the pronounced aftertaste, which is not out of character for such a tea. The aftertaste eventually starts to develop floral notes too. Like I mentioned earlier, being a black tea, it felt most familiar, but tasted fulfilling nevertheless.
Cold brew tea – A fresh twist
You learn something new everyday – I had no idea cold brew tea is a thing. I’m a devout fan of cold brew coffee and make it on my own, but tea – absolutely no clue. I received this suggestion from Satori themselves – to try their white tea and hojicha as a cold brew too. It takes just 2-5 hours to brew, depending on the tea. What you get are carryovers of the same taste profiles that we briefly described above, but in a refreshing avatar, opening up a new beverage option.
I have a feeling these cold brewed teas would make a great base ingredient for cocktails – I’m thinking gin for the white tea and vodka for the hojicha. The flavour profile of the hojicha makes whisky an interesting candidate too, but you would have to choose the right kind to not overpower the tea. This chapter isn’t over.
Founder’s take – Isha Mehta, Satori
On why tea is special:
“I feel tea is such an intricate commodity, and it hasn’t been fully discovered. People are slowly developing an interest and learning more about tea, which is wonderful. For me, preparing a cup of tea is a therapeutic process. One where you connect with your inner self. I feel it is important that people take time out to experience this feeling.”
On what Satori stands for:
“I felt the need to promote the orthodox tea drinking culture in our country. India produces some of the best quality orthodox teas and most of these teas are exported. It was vital to bring this directly to the Indian consumer itself.
We also have a strict policy of no added flavouring, preservatives or oil. Satori focuses on providing its consumers an authentic tea drinking experience. One where they can develop a palate for these specialty teas in their most natural form.”
Satori have 7 teas in their current catalogue. Boxes weigh between 30-50g and pricing for each box is between ₹400-₹650 for the green and black teas. The white tea (Lavender Dream) comes in a 37.5g box at a price of ₹1,000. The selection can be checked out and purchased on their website here.
While these are not inexpensive by any stretch, it helps to bear in mind that you can steep the leaves up to 3 times. And, in general, I still believe tea is an undervalued drink in our country. Our recommendations from Satori – Hojicha and Lavender Dream.
I’m not a tea sommelier, but I’ve always enjoyed using loose Darjeeling leaf tea to make my chai. It’s just a more elevated experience. Isha echoes my thoughts when she says we need to bring our best local produce to the Indian consumer. This is why I like what Satori is offering. Their limited, but very well curated range of teas has something for all moods and occasions. Sure, they sit at the very premium end of the tea spectrum, but the quality of their teas feels quite good. Tea is something we love to gift and their offering is more than suitable on that front as well.
Who’s it for: A tea connoisseur, gift seeker or general purist at heart
Talking point: Ever heard of cold brewed tea? Even better – ever tried it with gin?
Best thing about it: Getting a taste of some of the best teas India produces
Winning combination: Single origin + High quality natural ingredients
One thing I’d change: Isn’t about the teas themselves, but the labels pasted on boxes could be more flush with the container
What have your experiences with premium Indian teas been? Please do share them with us in the comments below. And if you found this story interesting or useful, please spread the indie brand goodness by sharing it with your friends and family!