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Tea pioneer Dolly Roy passes away in Kolkata

She was widely regarded as one of India’s first woman tea tasters and among first woman tea auctioneers in the world

Our Special Correspondent | Published 22.04.23, 07:30 AM
Dolly Roy

Dolly Roy

The woman who gifted the city its first tea boutique and reintroduced it to its favourite beverage in a myriad flavours unheard of in Kolkata in the 1980s is no more.

Dolly Roy, widely regarded as one of India’s first woman tea tasters and among the first woman tea auctioneers in the world, passed away on Friday morning.


Roy, wife of Trinamul Congress MP Saugata Roy, had been admitted to a private hospital in March with a lung infection. She was 69.

Generations of Kolkatans going to college in south Kolkata since the late-1980s would remember spending hours at Dolly’s — The Tea Shop at Dakshinapan Shopping Complex, next to the Dhakuria bridge. The outfit, that has long gained cult status, opened in 1988, the year the shopping complex was also inaugurated.

“Anyone going to Dakshinapan for shopping would chill at Dolly’s. She used to personally look after her clients and explain to them with so much passion the sourcing of the tea, what one should or should not add to it, and how many minutes to boil the leaves! She was an encyclopaedia of tea. Her goodwill spread across the country and even beyond among the non-resident Indian community. She was a tea influencer,” recalled Nayantara Palchoudhuri, chairperson of the Indian Tea Association, who called Roy her “role model”.

Roy’s interest in tea might have been infused in her during her years as a student at Loreto Convent, Darjeeling. She applied for a job as tea ambassador with the Tea Board of India around 1970 with a brief to promote Indian tea overseas.

The young Roy was sent to Darjeeling for training in the tea gardens for a year, after which she was posted in Mumbai, then Bombay. Soon she would travel across the US and Europe in what was a brand-building exercise for Indian tea, appearing in promotional events and on at least one occasion even on television in the US.

After a stint with a tea-broking firm, she applied for space at Dakshinapan that was being developed by the Calcutta Improvement Trust. And soon fruit teas like green coconut, pomegranate and mango, alongside the traditional first and second flush teas from Darjeeling, became the talk of the town. She would also sell these brews packaged as gift items.

Students of Jadavpur University made up a significant share of her clientele which included well-known patrons like filmmaker and critic Chidananda Dasgupta, who came regularly, sometimes accompanied by daughter Aparna (Sen). Roy would also hold events to popularise the novel brews.

In her condolence tweet, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has referred to Roy’s connection with all sections of society.

Today, café’s and tearooms have mushroomed across the city. In south Kolkata, the seed lay in that cosy corner at Dakshinapan where, above the floral wreathes left in mourning in front of the downed shutters on Friday, hang the words printed on point-of-purchase paper boxes: “I am a healthy assurance; I am a harmless vice”. Roy lived all her life as what her first job was: ambassador of tea.

Last updated on 22.04.23, 07:30 AM

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