From tea cup to wine glasses: Meet the Assam entrepreneur behind tea-infused wine

Pankhi Sarma

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Guwahati: In a remarkable fusion of tradition and innovation, an enterprising tea entrepreneur in Assam is poised to introduce a groundbreaking product- tea infused wine

In an exclusive interview with Business-Northeast, the lady behind this groundbreaking move, Alpana Saikia (AS), promises to not only celebrate Assam's rich tea heritage but also open up new horizons for the beverage industry by commercialising tea wine in Assam.

BNE: Your journey from experimenting with tea wine to preparing for its commercial launch is truly fascinating. What inspired you to delve into crafting wine from tea?
AS: My inspiration for crafting wine from tea came from the hardworking ladies I observed while spending time at tea estates. Their dedication and commitment to the tea industry sparked my curiosity about the potential uses of tea beyond the traditional cup.

BNE: Can you tell us more about your early experiments with wine-making?
AS: Initially, my journey into wine-making started with grape wine, a common choice for many enthusiasts. However, my love for tea and proximity to tea estates led me to experiment with crafting wine from tea leaves in 2000. The initial results were promising, and as I continued experimenting, it gained popularity among our social circle, especially during tea estate gatherings.

BNE: Can you elaborate on the challenges you faced as a woman pioneering tea wine-making in the market?
AS: Being a woman in a field typically dominated by men presented its challenges. The idea of crafting wine from tea was relatively unconventional, and breaking into the market required persistence. Additionally, there was limited support and policies in place initially. However, the drive to share this unique product with the world kept me going.

BNE: Could you share more about your journey from experimenting with tea wine to where you are now, preparing to launch it commercially?
AS: The journey from 2000 to 2007 remained relatively subtle, with the tea wine being known mainly among friends. However, in 2017, when the Tocklai Research Centre announced that wine could be crafted from tea while retaining its health benefits, I saw an opportunity. I began experimenting more intricately and developed various flavors of tea wine. That's when things started to pick up.

BNE: Can you tell us about the recent developments and the steps you've taken to bring your tea wine to the market?
AS: Of course. After receiving positive feedback, I reached out to the excise department of Assam to discuss the necessary norms for registration. After several discussions, a policy that aligned with our goals was introduced in June of this year. We've also secured space at the North East Mega Food Park in the Tihu area to prepare for the market launch.

BNE: Which variety of tea leaves you have considered for crafting the wine to be at par with other competitors? Also, how long can this tea wine be kept?
AS: Well, till now I have been using all the variety of tea, mostly the CTC Tea. The aim is to focus on organic teas more. We are quite hopeful that our product will make a good presence in the market. 
Usually, crafting takes 40-45 days.However, I have kept it for around 60 days to make its taste more enhanced. This wine has a self life upto 5 years. 

BNE: Can you share your vision for the future of tea wine and your plans for expansion?
AS: Our goal is to not only make tea wine a popular beverage in Assam but also to globalize it. We're in talks with tea estates to procure high-quality leaves and plan to experiment with various tea varieties beyond CTC Tea. We're hopeful that with the right team and resources, we can successfully implement our project, and we're targeting a potential market entry by December 2023 or January 2024. We aim to export our unique tea wine not only to other Indian states but also to international markets.

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Pankhi Sarma