Teaspoons of finesse

Chef Vicky Ratnani's specialties bolster a tea bar that offers a tea ecosystem

IN MUMBAI’S tony Juhu neighbourhood, frantic renovation activity is under way where the once famous Horizon hotel stood. On closer inspection, you notice the names of some of Mumbai’s finest restaurants on banners, announcing their imminent arrival. Call it an upscale food court, if you will. Amid all this, The Kettlery, a premium tea lifestyle brand, has opened its first master franchisee store.

The brainchild of Sandeep Kotecha and Praneta Mehta, his wife, the store in Mumbai will be run by Apoorva Kamdar. Kotecha has been in the tea industry for almost a decade, and has operated stores in the US, Canada, Mexico and the Middle East. He saw merit in the “power of localising tea”, and felt that if people were offered flavour options, it would change their perception of tea.

The Kettlery is about experiencing fine gourmet tea, served with all the elaborate frills of a fancy tea service. And, the teas are coupled with celebrity chef Vicky Ratnani’s food expertise. The focus is as much on food as it is on tea. “We created this model with Vicky’s expertise in food and our expertise in tea,” says Kotecha. “We want to do tea in a very unique way, while pairing it with an all-veg cuisine, so that it would also go well with our wellness message.” Partner and culinary consultant, Vicky Ratnani, adds, “We also want to give a ‘Vicky’ take to the food, which is imaginative, modern, and yet very humble.”

True to tea: Sandeep Kotecha (left) and Apoorva Kamdar | Janak Bhat True to tea: Sandeep Kotecha (left) and Apoorva Kamdar | Janak Bhat

Keeping in mind people’s “peculiar choices”, The Kettlery offers a balance of products that will appeal not just to tea connoisseurs, but also to the working population and millennials. Kotecha understands the challenges, especially in a tea-drinking nation such as ours. “There is something for everyone... fruity, spicy, straight teas, fruit blends, even mocktails and iced teas,” he says. The menu offers a wide variety from morning teas and breakfast blends to afternoon teas and an entire section dedicated to the connoisseurs, consisting of fine, single-origin and first-flush teas. “Even if you look at our masala chai, it is not your regular masala chai,” says Kotecha. “It is artisanal and hand-picked with well-curated spices.” However, Kotecha knows that customers may find the options overwhelming. “Customers lose interest after eight to ten flavours. So, while the training for the staff has been pretty intense, all efforts are in the direction of trying to understand the guests’ palate. After 10-15 flavours, we want you to make a decision,” he says.

At The Kettlery, emphasis is given to the way tea is served. Care is taken in choosing the right flavour, brewing it right and serving it in the right crockery. If you enjoy the teas, you can also buy them, the accessories and the kits at a boutique inside. “In that sense, it is a complete offering. We are trying to build a complete tea ecosystem,” says Kotecha.

“The Kettlery sits between a cafe and a fine dine,” says Kamdar, of the 45-seater tea bar. “It is not your regular cafe but a premium cafe, not too swanky or in your face.” The interiors, done by Dhruval Kanani, boast a charcoal grey ceiling, brick walls, and beige-coloured upholstery. With the soft lights, the place emanates a warmth and an old-world charm. The tea bar also has a separate private dining area, apt for corporate group presentations or for creative writing students to discuss work.

Interestingly, The Kettlery does not serve coffee. However, keeping coffee lovers in mind, they serve beverages that are mate-based—’mate’ being a South American plant that has caffeine. “We developed some interesting beverages like baclava and chocolate mate, which will appeal to coffee lovers. It will be a good change from going to a regular coffee bar,” says Kamdar.

“Tea is the new coffee,” says Ratnani, reminding us how friendships in India have been traditionally formed by inviting a friend over for a cup of tea. “The benefits and the versatility of tea are being portrayed world over and one of the main things at The Kettlery is to share the goodness of tea,” he says.

Praneta Mehta and Vicky Ratnani | Janak Bhat Praneta Mehta and Vicky Ratnani | Janak Bhat

Among Ratnani’s signature dishes is chai puchka, which is paani puri infused in tea. It is a recipe developed by the chef using different teas. Instead of the tamarind chutney and the mint-flavoured water, we get two kinds of tea. Maldives, a fruit blend, is the chef’s version of a sweet condiment that has chaat masala added to it. Along with it is a tea called amusing peppermint, which is a herbal blend of lemon grass, rose and peppermint. Next, we try khachos, which is a mix of khakra and nachos, served with salsa, guacamole and sour cream dip. The beetroot shikhampuri kebabs they serve are inspired by Hyderabadi cuisine, and are similar to Galouti kebabs, but a delicious vegetarian version. “As compared to items on most cafe menus, we use fresh vegetables in very high proportions,” says Ratnani. “There are also a lot of fabulous salads, and we even have dishes for the 11-18 age group, whose palates are very different. The dishes are very light and inventive, keeping in mind urban India, seasons and palatability.”

Secrets of the East, one of their green teas, has eight different teas from different countries, blended together with saffron and rose. It is said to have palate-cleansing qualities. The Kettlery has almost 20-25 different kinds of green teas alone, and all are in-house products for which they have tied up with tea gardens and blenders in Darjeeling, Assam, Meghalaya, the Nilgiris, China and Sri Lanka. The Kettlery has its own blends, too, like their take on thandai (oolong tea mixed with thandai spices) and golden twist, which has a fruity aroma with a peppery finish to it. Also, for those seeking makaibari—the famous Darjeeling tea supplied to the Queen—they have a similar product called Darjeeling Spring Beauty.

“Because the whole city is into wellness and fitness, everybody is looking for an alternative beverage to follow the trend,” says Ratnani. “We have a nice mocktail menu, as well. Hopefully, someday, we can add a shot of vodka to that.” The Kettlery has tied up with renowned mixologist Shatbhi Basu.

What is standard though is the transparent brew maker, into which tea leaves are put and hot water added. A timer is also provided to brew your tea leaves right. “We do not have ridiculously expensive products,” says Kotecha. “People should be able to buy tea.” The lattes start at Rs 150 and the average price of the teapots is between Rs 220-250. Ratnani’s dishes are a big draw and the food prices average between Rs 250 and Rs 300.