Nestled on the lush terraced hillside of a sleepy Nilgiri community lies Tea Studio. This glass structure with soaring ceilings and red trim is the only modern feature on these age-old terraces. This state of the art tea processing and educational facility was the longtime dream of Indi Khanna - who has been producing fine Indian teas for decades.
While Tea Studio was being conceptualized, Indi asked his daughter Muskan to leave her work in the city to join the team as Operations Manager. She debated, and then made it clear to her father that she would be interested only if she was able to explore incorporating traditional Chinese methods into their production. Under Muskan’s leadership, the factory is producing one of a kind Chinese inspired teas with distinct Indian tastes. Tea Studio is also an educational space designed to host groups and teach professionals how to make fine whole leaf teas. The factory is currently run and operated exclusively by a team of women – rare for the tea industry.
We visited Tea Studio on the India Tea Tour and had Muskan helped us get our hands in the tea leaves. We reached her by email to ask her a few questions about her work at Tea Studio.
What is Tea Studio to you?
Tea studio to me is my calling! It’s my home away from home, it's my happy place.
When did you know you wanted to get into tea?
To be honest… I didn’t. From studying Media Studies at the University of Birmingham, to working in advertising, I ended up working with Indi (my father) who has been in tea all his life. And before I knew it, I started enjoying the world of tea more and more.
What was it like to grow up with your father working in the tea industry? Did that feel special, unusual, or just normal?
To me, it felt normal. That’s the only profession I’ve ever seen him at. Of course, now that I’m in the same business as him it feels special. He’s such a well-respected person in the tea world and there is so much I learn from him EVERY day.
What is your daily routine like at Tea Studio? Can you walk us through a typical day?
I get to the Studio by 9:00am, check my emails, do the accounts from the previous day, and then head down to the factory floor where we start manufacturing. From handling the fresh leaf, to making the teas, to hand sorting the made tea and even sweeping the dust off the floor, I do it all. Once we finish manufacturing, I usually go back to my office to check for any new emails or client leads and head home at about 6:00pm. Since it’s a totally woman run operation we do not like to work past 6:00pm.
Your female colleagues - did they have experience in tea when they began working with you, or did you train them on the job? What interested them about working at Tea Studio?
They had no prior experience working in a factory, they all were leaf pluckers from around the area. They have all been trained on the job. When I asked them what they liked about it they say it’s because of the environment. “The 'bosses' are so kind, they make us feel important at every stage. It is so nice working in a factory which is only managed by women, we can be free and be ourselves. The best part is we feel at home here, we don’t want to go back home. If working on Sundays was an option, we would do that too!”
What excited you most about Tea Studio?
Everything! That’s like asking someone “what do you love most about your child?” I’m excited about the teas we make, the positive feedback we get, my hardworking team of girls… all of it.
What are you most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to someday becoming a known face in the industry, and for Tea Studio to be right there on the map.
How does it feel to be a young woman in the Indian tea industry? Has anything surprised you?
It feels a bit unusual. The tea industry, in India especially, is still a very male dominated place. It did take a while for people to take me seriously. However, I’ve seen that change gradually, where people actually respect what I do. Though every now and then I do get a “you manage a tea factory?” – implying it’s clearly a man’s job.
What is your favorite tea and why?
Oh this is tough, but if I really had to choose, I’d say the Nilgiri bamboo (Green Mist). This is a tea I invented myself. I was trying to think of ways to not waste the stalk. I tried different methods, and eventually came up with the bamboo. We're in the process of getting a patent on it too.