Exotic teas blended with fruity and minty flavours are passe; have you tried a millet tea? Jagannath Chinary, the tea man of Jeypore in the Koraput district of Odisha, believes tea lovers will find his zesty finger millet tea with a touch of black salt and lemon to be flavoursome. “Millet tea is healthy and tasty too,” says Jagannath, during an Odisha Craft and Food and Mela in Hyderabad. At Jagannath Millet Hub, which he founded a decade ago in Jeypore, he began by selling finger millet (ragi) laddoos and cookies and, gradually, expanded to other millet products. With finger millet, called Mandia in Odia, being one of the major crops cultivated in Koraput district, the thrust is to experiment with the crop.
The story of ragi tea began in 2021 when Jagannath was eager to introduce a new millet-based item. “Kodo husk concoction is popular in tribal belts. I also discovered that this used to be served as a nutritional drink. Instead of kodo, I wanted to try making it with ragi because ragi is produced more in the district,” says Jagannath. “I initially created a drink with only ragi but that was not palatable,” recalls the 42-year-old.
After experimenting with various flavours, Jagannath arrived at a new flavour that became an instant hit. “The process may be a bit laborious but the taste makes it worth it,” he says, adding, “Ragi is soaked for two days, then it is sun-dried for four days. Afterwards, it is stored in airtight steel boxes for two days. As it is sun-dried, the ragi won’t sprout,” he explains. This ragi is left under a fan for three hours, dry roasted on a pan and ground on a flour mill machine (A mixie can be used for small quantities). “Tea masala, tulsi leaves and arjuna chal (a herb) are added to flavour the powder,” he says. This tea powder is boiled with water and jaggery for two minutes and, finally, a dash of black salt and two drops of lemon juice are added before serving. “Ragi and jaggery are like best friends; The benefit of ragi is well assimilated with jaggery, rather than sugar,” he insists.
Jagannath Millet Hub which is handled by his wife, Sumithra Chinary, sees sales of around 100 cups per day.While his tea stalls at porobs (melas) held in Bhubaneshwar and Koropot are packed with customers, he has also earned accolades. He not only won awards locally in Bhubaneshwar for popularising millets, but also won second prize at the Cooking with Millets section of Poshak Anaj Award 2022 held in Hyderabad. The two-year journey to popularise ragi tea was tough, he says. “Hardly any customers showed interest in drinking this tea; we had to drink it ourselves!”
Other ragi-based items in his shop in the Odia Mela include savouries such as mixture, two varieties of muruku (with til and ajwain), crunchy nimki ( namak para) and the sweet khaja . Jagannath’s team also works with three self-help groups that prepare these delicacies with millet batter supplied by his team.
At the recent five-day Krushi Mela in Bhubaneshwar, his millet stall offered foxtail millet sambar rice, little millet curd rice, kodo millet biryani and ragi chowmein. “The Bhuvaneshwar State government supports us by giving free stalls at melas. We have registered our tea project in Koratpur millet association and have also applied for an MSME registration. Once this materialises, we can scale up the production, launch a website and supply it all over India,” says Jagannath who hopes to create ragi coffee next.