A pair of brew genes: Anu Acharya, India’s genomics queen, has a tea for every mood
Oregano. Sage. Ginseng. Ginger. Saffron. Cinnamon. Lavender. Turmeric. Chrysanthemum. Eucalyptus. Tulsi. Clove. Cardamom. Ashwagandha. We’re not describing an exotic grocery list, but some of the contents of the shelves of Anu Acharya’s office.
When I first met Anu, I was quite taken in by her office. Nestled within a bustling workplace in Hyderabad’s energetic HiTech City, her office is part workstation; part gym (there’s an elliptical trainer in the corner); part tea brewery (an electric kettle, an assortment of tetsubins, ceramic teapots, teacups, steepers, and strainers); part apothecary (an assortment of tea ingredients); part library (books galore); part gallery (photos and artwork); and every bit wonderful.
During the course of our interaction, Anu, who was awarded Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2011, and named in the 2018 W-power trailblazers by Forbes, showed us that she is just as nerdy about tea as she is about genomics. During the course of our conversation she brewed a Japanese lentil tea, an Ayurvedic tea, and of course we couldn’t go away without tasting MapMyGenome’s in-house masala chai, created from Anu’s mom’s personal recipe. Here’s what she has to say about what’s brewing in her life.
Where her journey with tea began
“My love for tea began at home,” Anu says. “My parents were both chai lovers. My mom has her very own recipe for masala chai which consists of cardamom, ginger, pepper, javitri, nutmeg, and cinnamon. She also introduced tulsi and brahmi during winters, and this probably nudged me along my tea trajectory. Dad appealed to the nerd in me by telling us about its properties and how this would be good for memory. Sadly, dad left us 4 years ago but his love for various teas continues with me.”
And here’s a fun fact. “My mother’s masala chai is now served at the Mapmygenome office by our own Sinu who kind of rules the office and staff, and has been with us for 18 years,” she says.
Earliest tea memories
“My earliest memories of tea take me back to summer holidays as a child in Rajasthan. We would be on the terrace with the extended family. Everyone would be drinking tea and chatting till 3am or so,” Anu recalls.
Experimenting with tea
Anu loves to experiment with different types of teas
When it comes to experimenting with tea, Anu says, “My own genomics study revealed that I had a fair tolerance for caffeine. I metabolise caffeine easily – I’m one of those people who can sleep even after a caffeinated drink, so that probably helped the interest along.”
Experimenting with different types of ingredients and studying their properties and effects over the years led Anu to understand the effects of different kinds of teas, and which kind worked for various situations.
“Also, as I began posting on my personal Instagram account, I realised that a fair amount of posts were about tea, so it made sense to create a dedicated account for that. Thus began preventea.coffee, a personal Instagram account where I post concoctions for prevention of disease and for wellbeing,” she says.
Genomics and the diet
“My genomepatri, which is what we call our genomics product, revealed that I have a high risk for diabetes, and a few other skin-related issues. There were obesity markers as well,” she explains.
After consulting with the genetic counsellor, Anu decided to rethink her dietary habits. She began by listing out everything that she ate and tracking her activity. She then started making small and gradual changes: for example, removing milk and grains gradually from her diet.
“Changing my diet and fitness habits needed the introduction of positive rituals that could evolve into habits over time,” she says. “I started with my dinner. I began by cutting out rice, and then moved on to other grains, I focussed on getting more dals, vegetables, nuts, and yoghurt in. I have a really light dinner of soup, fruits, or buttermilk, mostly by 7.30. I eat lunch (brought from home) exactly at 12.30. I keep an assortment of nuts around for the times I feel snack-ish. It’s not that I’m starving myself in any form, but it’s about bringing together what I like and what really works for me.”
She misses eating idlis and dosas the most, even today. Her biggest dietary challenge is her fondness for chocolate and desserts, which she hasn’t been able to change, so she does indulge occasionally. Her favourite diet fix is, however, is omelettes, especially exciting variations.
Motivation to exercise
Exercise was another aspect of change that Anu needed to experiment with. “I get bored with exercise routines so I try and vary things a bit, and have a mix of routines. Currently my motivation to exercise comes from YouTube. There are a lot of great personal trainers out there posting interesting routines and I follow quite a few of them,” she says.
The perfect cup of tea
Tea rituals were also an important part of her dietary transition, and she began giving up sugar and milk in her tea.
When it comes to brewing the perfect cup of tea, she says. “I always begin with green tea as a base. The combination of ingredients is often dictated by the mood and occasion. Combinations should be blended thoughtfully, sometimes you just may not like it. Different ingredients steep at different temperatures and conditions. Some roots may need to be steeped overnight, so plan accordingly.”
Unusual teas and delicious flavours
“I acquired a taste for sage tea while in Greece. Greek sage tea is an antioxidant powerhouse - comparable to green tea. It’s an acquired taste of course, but the bitter and smoky flavour of the leaves adds an interesting dimension,” she says.
Get the best equipment
There is a tea for every ailment
Anu has several kettles from various countries, lots of infusers, electric kettles, small containers, and many, many types of cups. Some are shot glasses, others are very large cups. She also has flasks and bottles to carry tea with her everywhere.
Which tea for which mood?
Here are Anu’s suggestions for the best teas for your mood:
Masala Chai (My mom’s recipe):
Cardamom, ginger, pepper, javitri, nutmeg, cinnamon
Eucalyptus, lemongrass, sage, green tea
Assam black, chachi’s masala, brahmi
Ashwagandha, rosemary, green tea
Tulsi green, cinnamon, sage
Darjeeling tea, rose petals, brahmi
Ayurvedic combination, turmeric , brahmi, green tea
Earl grey, fresh thyme, clove, sage
Fresh ginger, black pepper
White tea, cinnamon, sage
When she is not working, Anu pursues several interests. “I enjoy poetry, experimental cooking, cycling, photography, reading.... and there have been more,” she says.
Advice for startup founders
Anu’s advice for those who want to start a business is simple. “Find that passion other than your day-to-day business as it gives you fresh ideas and fuels growth.”
And finally, a poem…
We leave you with one of Anu’s poems on caffeine. Yes, she’s a poet too!
My love for caffeine
Let not my love for caffeine be called addiction,
Nor my state of mind as hypershow,
Since my passion needs fuel,
Didn’t someone rightly say so?
Let not the ideas that keep emanating,
Or the energy within the room,
Die an unnatural death,
For the lack of espresso.
Let not lack of caffeine within those beans,
Keep you away from your dreams,
While I sip more Sidapur’s coffee,
Unadulterated, say no more.