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Sultans of sip and bite
At 80, still titan of the tea trade

Enter the small shop, tucked away in a corner near the entrance to College Street market to drown in the aroma of tea. Behind the counter, it is being measured, weighed, judged and packed. Behind the scenes, various types are being blended to arrive at the perfect brew.

This has been going on for over 80 years now, ever since Subodh Dutt decided to set up shop and sell the finest of Darjeeling teas, fresh from the gardens in the hills.

Subodh Brothers opened its doors in 1923, in what is now College Street market, to serve the brew in its leaf form 'to the Bengali population of north Calcutta'.

Today, Subodh's tea has travelled far. With two branches ' in Salt Lake and Haldia ' and an export business stretching from the US to Japan, the Dutt family is clearly the titan of the town's tea trade.

Several new tea addresses have sprung up, so there's no missing the pride in the voice of Tapan Dutt when he says that 'samples of all new blends from every brand ready to hit the market' are sent here first. 'We have only just received a sample from Goodricke. It costs Rs 3,000, but the quality is unmatched,' points out the grandson of the late Subodh Dutt.

Tea drinking isn't what it used to be, admits the man into his 50s, but it is still very much in vogue. Connoisseurs are rare, but the number of tea drinkers hasn't dwindled. 'We do sales worth several crores every year, including exports.'

There are fewer takers for the Darjeeling variety, with the CTC-type gaining popularity for mass consumption ' 'more tea for less' ' especially with the non-Bengalis.

The tea man laments the lack of leisure in the making of tea. 'Nobody has the time to make it properly any more.'

But teatime at Subodh Brothers doesn't stand still. 'Packaging is becoming very important, especially as a gift item. We have designed a new pack, which we will be releasing soon. Besides, my son has come up with flavoured tea bags, which we are exporting to the UK,' reveals Dutt.

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