British national Nirmal Sethia, who divides his time between Dubai and Kolkata, once had 137 companies, including security printing, gold mining, and a tea business. "In 2010, my wife Chitra fell ill, and wanted me to go back to my first profession, my first love – tea," says Nirmal Sethia, chairman, Newby London during a car ride from Kolkata City to an hour away, where his tea factory is located. "'You will make history,' she said to me. 'You just see.'"

Today, Sethia, now in his 80s, helms a tea brand so exquisite, made from the finest teas in India and Asia, that it's favoured by connoisseurs from European royals to heads of state.

Newby is the world's most awarded luxury tea brand, clocking up to 140 awards till date. Among them are the Global Tea Awards (winners include the Supreme Jasmine Gourmet Caddy; 100 gm; ₹4,600, and Jasmine Pearls Loose Leaf Pouch; 250 gm; ₹9,200), the DBA Awards – Design Effectiveness Awards for packaging such as the Hunan Green Silken Pyramids and Assam Tea Bags, and many more.

So, what makes Newby such a cult favourite across the world? The car pulls up to a mint green gate with the letters 'Newby London' painted on them. "I bought the land and designed this factory – it took me 10 months to complete," says Sethia. "In 2006, we invited 200 people from all over the world to look at our 'madness'." All this after Sethia had first started the tea business, some 40 years ago, while he was still going back and forth to Russia. "I had to close my Newby tea company because people had cheated me," he says. "I hadn't done a tasting in 40 years; it's highly specialised art. So I had to return to Kolkata and do it my own way – create a factory that would be a testament to the purity and longevity of tea." He had by then halted all other work, and was focused on Newby. "When I started tasting my teas, everything came back to me," he says. In 2006 he sent his first blends to the U.K.-based Guild of Fine Food's Great Taste Awards, and ended up winning in every category.

At that time, Sethia would come across magical teas that "became like saffron" when poured, for which he was willing to pay $10 million a kilo. (He also has rare floral teas which he sells for $250,000 a kilo). He then started sending his teas to the Global Tea Championship in the U.S., and would end up with even more winners. After he lost his wife in 2010, Sethia decided to dedicate all proceeds of the sale of Newby teas to the N Sethia Foundation. "We have already given ₹15,000 crore to all our charities," he says, "I hope I can double it in the next five years if I am living."

The charity is involved in education, medical research, disaster relief, and cultural activities. "We've reconstructed the Tirupati Temple in Delhi, which is 100% funded by me," he says of the 180,000 sq. ft. complex on Mandir Marg in Delhi's Chhatarpur area. He has also built a temple on five acres in Kurukshetra, besides offering the West Bengal government ₹10 crore to set up proper crematoriums for the poor.

Sustainability is also one thing the company focuses on. The Newby facility is covered with solar panels. "The first thing we did was go solar," says Sethia. "Since January 1, 2023, this facility is fully carbon-neutral as certified by PAS 2060 (a standard to assess carbon neutrality)."

There's a tea blending drum where all the individual teas – the best of Assam, Darjeeling, a couple from the Nilgiris, Oolongs from Taiwan, Gyokuro green tea from Japan, green tea from China, one variety from Ceylon – which have been carefully preserved, is mixed homogeneously in a large rotating drum. Before that, the taster and blender issues a detailed sheet on how each blend needs to be made. “There are high-resolution magnets to lift off metal and iron filings from their machinery that may have fallen into the tea,” says a spokesperson. The other sieve filters out bits of thread and paper. The drum has a 1 tonne capacity, and does its work in 30 minutes. Once the blending is complete, it is de-stoned in a special machine, where the leaves float on top, and the stones sink to the bottom. Next is the packing unit. Around 120-130 packs a minute are created, i.e. four cartons a minute, using Italian machinery.

Only the first and second flush leaves go into making Newby teas. These are leaves that are either plucked when they are tender, baby leaves, or in the prime of their youth, so 100% of their buying is complete from April to June (during the 10-month cycle, December being the oldest point). "We won’t touch anything from East Africa, Bangladesh, Indonesia, or Vietnam. All the selections are mine. I may taste 5,000 lots, and only five are selected.” All teas are sent to Eurofin for certification, so that they are in compliance with EU food and safety norms, as well as the US FDA. “Our teas are all FSSAI compliant (and tested not only for harmful fluoride), but we test for 620 pesticides,” says the spokesperson.

A Rare Teaware Collection

The Chitra Collection is an extraordinary private museum of teaware founded in 2011 by Sethia. Named after his late wife Chitra, the collection features 3,000 objects and is one-of-its-kind.

A Precious Teapot

Designed by Sethia in 2016, the Egoist teapot is officially certified by the Guinness World Records as the Most Valuable Teapot in the World, at $3 million. It is entirely paved in 1,658 white diamonds and 386 rubies, with a central 6.67 carat ruby which once formed part of his late wife Chitra’s jewellery collection. Surrounded by gold rays, the ruby resembles a resplendent sun which symbolises Surya, the Hindu sun god. The diamonds were handpicked and set on the body in four different sizes to create a gradient effect and highlight the teapot’s perfectly spherical body. The teapot’s name refers to its small size – designed to brew just enough tea for one cup – and the precious materials chosen to adorn its surface.

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