“Thank God for Tea! I am glad that I was not born before Tea.” ~ Sydney Smith
India’s loved beverage tea is giving a new high to teapreneurs, aficionados and connoisseurs, and in the process helping them brew an entrepreneurial success story, one cup at a time. While some are giving tea its due in the cafe landscape, in a move to compete with coffee, brewing it just the way one wants, and catering to those tea lovers who seek a midway between the roadside tappari and a premium lounge at a five-star hotel, with tempting subscription services, allowing one to order it online, enjoy as takeaways or better sipped in peace at their snazzy outlets to the accompaniment of a range of delectable snacks. But there are a couple of others who are helping tea evolve from every man’s beverage to a redolent and luxury drink, marketing, branding and selling tea leaves, teawares and tea accompaniments online and at retail outlets. These teaholics are experimenting with a variety of blends, infusions, floral notes and tisanes to tickle and satiate taste buds of a tea lover and make it the most brewed one.
And then there are tea appreciation workshops, tea tasting sessions, chai walks, tea rooms, tea parties and tea bars to take the beverage to a new high. A rundown of the tea enthusiasts and their remarkable teaventures as they work day and night to make tea rule the streets in the same way as it does our homes, and hearts. As Lewis Carroll rightly said, “Yes, that’s it! Said the Hatter with a sigh, it’s always tea time.”
Pankaj Judge| Chai Thela
“If you cut me, I will bleed chai,” proclaims Pankaj Judge, 33, management graduate from IIT Kharagpur, and it was this undying love for tea that led him to start Chai Thela in 2015. Food is all about experience believes the serial foodpreneur whose first venture Jiyo India used to serve healthy snacks out of outlets in Kolkata. The investor pulled out just days before his wedding and he was left with no other option but to start another quick service restaurant. “The idea behind this venture was to serve authentic (freshly-brewed) tea in a hygienic place. One can find a variety of teas – regular as well as some exotic ones. We refrain from storing tea in flasks and serve it hot with naashta (breakfast),” says Judge. The compact model is focused on IT parks and colleges as their prime market. In barely three years since its launch, he has spent time chasing customers, and the numbers reflect his passion. His chai cart dots 13 busy hubs across NCR, mostly at IT parks and colleges, and has also made a grand debut in Mumbai. He will launch a monthly subscription service for IT Park customers which entails chai-nashta for just Rs 899 in April this year. Buoyed by the recent infusion of funds, Judge is planning to add more outlets in the coming months, and take his tea cart to other cities, but before scaling up, he is focusing on building a robust system and putting processes in place.
Tea wise: Even if you have 10% knowledge, you need 90% common sense to apply it.
Fact of the matter: My father-in-law didn’t approve of the name. He wanted me to change it to Tea Cafe, Tea Latte, or keep any other name, but not Chai Thela.
Robin Jha, Asad Khan and Atit Kumar | TPot
A Chartered Accountant by profession, Robin Jha, 32 founded tea café TPot with two other tea lovers in 2013 because he wanted to make a company around the bona fide pleasure of handmade tea. “Tea kindles conversations and the idea behind our café is to get people chatting over a cup of tea,” says Jha. The brand counts on offering premium service at dirt cheap price. “We are an affordable brand. A cup of tea costs anything between Rs 20-50 while breakfast comes for Rs 70-100,” says Asad Khan, 32, co-founder and COO. With around 40 types of tea, a tea lover is indeed spoilt for choice which can be sipped at its 27 outlets spread across NCR or ordered online too. “We are focusing on Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon in NCR market and our target is to have 50 outlets in this region. And in the next three years, we will be a pan-India brand,” adds Jha. When the trio decided to scale up their operations, they stumbled upon the first roadblock – creating infrastructure. The other nagging issue bothering them has been looking for a trained workforce to handle the food and beverage section for their startup. But the team is high on the fact that brewed tea is an underserved opportunity outside the home. Banking on this thought, Atit Kumar, 32, co-founder and CBO quips, “We aim to be a full service ‘chai-nashta’ player in the Out Of Home space.”
Kettle smart: We love chai and crave for chai. But we also serve ‘unchai’ items – coolers, coffee and shakes.
Biggest strength: Continuous innovations in the product line to stay ahead of the competitors.
Chirag Yadav | Chaipatty Teafe
Delhi College of Engineering graduate Chirag Yadav, 34, wears many hats. A trained salsero, art curator, and passionate cook, Yadav started off his entrepreneurial journey with Chai Patty (Chaipatti + Chowpatty), a learning centre in Bengaluru. Realising that something as important as chai, the most significant connecting factor was amiss in his creative venture, he shaped it as Chaipatty Teafe (Tea+Cafe), a chai shack in Indiranagar way back in December 2010. “We are a cross between a college canteen and roadside tea stall. We are for come one, come all and welcome everyone from students, professionals, families, friends, couples, colleagues and even pets,” he says. Yadav single-handedly manages his outlet with six dedicated staff members making it a one-stop destination for those who love their kulhad chai, freshly brewed and served steaming hot with their favorite snacks – pakodas, momos and Maggi. The recent addition to the menu includes parantha and English breakfast options that have made it an all-day anytime visit friendly cafe. “We serve tea without any powdered spice or seasoning. We don’t use powdered milk,” he adds. The tea café doubles up as a mini art store with jewellery and home decor items put up for sale in a corner and activity workshops from salsa, pottery, bartending, to photography, and film-making being hosted regularly making it a hot spot for the culture vultures. A self-funded and non-mechanised venture since start, he has no plans to expand. “Being a one-store brand, our cafe is like a family for our regular customers, and we prefer taking good care of them,” he says.
High on tea: Our Kulhads are not bought but painstakingly crafted at our pottery classes. They are made of clay and not mud hence stronger for multiple uses.
Wise one: Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give… it’s about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward.
Amuleek Singh Bijral and Prof Tarun Khanna | Chai Point
Armed with a management degree from Harvard Business School, Amuleek Singh Bijral, 41, and Prof Tarun Khanna, 51, also from Harvard started the first pilot store in Bengaluru in April 2010, and since then their tea venture Chai Point has only moved places. Harping on the fact that India runs on chai, Bijral, says, “The most loved beverage in India is a huge emotional anchor for people.”And the largest brand of chai in the country has numbers to back its claim: 7.5 lakh member base on Chai Point’s loyalty program (mobile based) and growing at 20,000 new members every month, 100 stores across eight cities and around three lakh cups served every day. Their offerings include varieties of hot chai, iced chai, shakes; and bite-sized Made-For-Chai snacks perfectly accompanying the morning and evening chai ritual. “Our core offering is B2S – beverage (hot or cold), breakfast and snacks. We ensure great taste, quality and freshness, making the whole chai experience authentic. Tea leaves sourced from the best plantations of India, and brewed with 100% natural ingredients and no artificial colour or flavor make it a special cup,” he adds. The quirky favourites remain ginger chai and banana cake and a riveting set of parantha-based snacks will be added to the menu soon. The technology-based beverage pioneer recently launched BoxC.in, the world’s first cloud based beverage services platform that gives Chai Point chai through all android-based dispensers.
Chai on call: The products are delivered within a 3-km radius in heat-retaining disposable flasks and branded packaging through app-based or website ordering channel.
High on tea: A cloud-based platform, SHARK allows fast and seamless integration of billing tracking across all their outlets.
Nitin Saluja and Raghav Verma| Chaayos
Houston-based IIT graduate Nitin Saluja, 34, returned to India and started the first Chaayos café with another IITian Raghav Verma, 31, in Cyber City, Gurugram, in November 2012. “We wanted to give a contemporary interpretation to the age-old concept of chai adda or “tea room” culture, a place where chai is considered an integral part for every discussion, be it life, work, society or politics. Our focus remains to serve freshly brewed ‘Meri Wali Chai’ to every chai lover,” says Saluja. Chaayos has 53 chai cafés spread across six cities – Delhi, Mumbai, Gurugram, Noida, Ghaziabad, Chandigarh, and Karnal, serving more than 12,000 cups of chai every day. Customers can walk into Chaayos outlet or order it online and have it customized too. The brand gives its customers the option of 12 add-ons producing more than 12,000 ways to make chai. The tea start-up is rapidly growing in the home delivery segment through which they deliver fresh chai in disposable kettles. “Three cafes in Gurugram are open 24×7 to cater to round the clocktea cravings,” says Saluja. Each year, Chaayos launches three different menus to coincide with three important seasons to add to its already existing menu. “If it was Aam Panna Iced Tea and Kalakhatta Iced Tea for summer, it was Shahi Chai for monsoon and Gur Chai for winter. The quirky favourites remain Honey Ginger Lemon Tea and Thandi Chai in saunf flavour,” says Saluja. To satiate the hunger pangs, there are thepla tacos, loaded open paratha and palak patta crisps. “These innovations have given us a distinct edge, and helped us maintain high repeat,” he adds.
Tech Smart: Our point-of-sale system Kettle is the most multi-dimensional and advanced POS software available in retail today.
Café Themes: Three themes – travel and chai, rain, book and chai and high on chai.
Parvez, Punit and Soveet | Udyan Tea
Siliguri-based Udyan Tea was born out of a strange concoction of frustration, realizing that the good quality produce of tea is mostly exported to foreign markets, and a deep passion for bringing the finer, fresher teas for the masses to savour. The founders – Parvez Gupta, 30, Punit Poddar, 30 and Soveet Gupta, 28 – who hail from entrepreneurial families and come with varied academic backgrounds, came together to start ‘Udyan’ meaning garden. “We strive to bring only the finest handpicked single estate tea as well as the most flavourful blends to the people because fine tea is like fine wine. The taste is highly intricate and taste once developed is hard to get over,” says Soveet. Their combined experience in tea and technology helped them become pioneers in the e-commerce space for tea. Punit with 10 years of tea tasting experience takes care of tea sourcing, and tasting, Parvez is responsible for technology and operations while Soveet looks after marketing and business development. Punit quips, “We ensure that the appearance, aroma and taste of tea is nothing short of excellent. Our three-fold philosophy – Freshness, Authenticity and Quality – drives our product line.” In addition to tea, the brand offers a number of tea accessories. “We ensure that the design of these accessories give enough room to your tealeaves to fully unfurl during the steeping process. We also have gift sets that are beautifully designed to justify the exclusivity of the tea created by our master blenders,” says Parvez. So from champagne gold caddies to cork lidded glass jars, there is a wide range of these packs that perfectly complement any occasion, be it personal or professional. The brand has just launched its unique subscription plan to let users discover new teas each month because “tea needs to be hand-curated for each drinker.”
Special quotient: Our teas are bought directly from the estates and selected from amongst hundreds of samples. The teas are vacuumed the day we buy them so that its quality and aroma remains intact.
Taster’s choice: Our best selling blend Kashmiri Saffron Kahwa has been created using exotic ingredients including saffron, almonds, rose and spices with green tea as the base.
Kausshal Dugarr | Teabox
“Tea is not an indulgence or an escape but a necessary interruption to a busy day,” believes Teabox founder Kausshal Dugarr, 34. With years of connection and experience in the tea industry, Dugarr and his team reinvented the supply chain, effectively circumventing agents, auction houses, wholesalers and resellers and launched Teabox in 2012. Based in Siliguri, Darjeeling, the home of the best teas of the world, Teabox brings tea to consumers in little over a week from harvest, redefining freshness and tea. Over the years, the online tea brand has gained popularity and shipped over 40 million cups to tea lovers in more than 112 countries. It has an astounding range of 250 teas and six major tea types. “Our in-house experts assure that tea is manually cleaned for better taste, vacuum packed for freshness, stored in optimum conditions and is shipped to a buyer within 24 hours, across the world,” he adds. The five types of tea from six different regions are priced between Rs 499 and Rs 10000 per 100 grams. The first purchase gets 20% off and if one subscribes to its monthly, quarterly and six-monthly subscription service, one gets a monthly themed box with five curated teas. “And not just tea, there are numerous teawares on offer, from classic and chic, curated and festive gifts and corporate gifting with customised messaging and custom blends,” he quips. The quirky favourites are Morrocan Mint, Kashmiri Kahwa, Red Jamaican, and Hibiscus Lemongrass. In 2018, the brand raised Rs 7 million in Series B funding. “We have major plans to strengthen its backend and infrastructure to take our service to the globe in a more effective and improved way. Offline ventures will be prominent this year and enhancing our overall customer experience,” he says.
Tea for thought: Connoisseurs and tea enthusiasts alike revel in the finest fresh teas that Teabox brings to their cups. So, if you like a tea or two, pick it up and give it a steep. It’ll take you somewhere you’ve never been.
Brew guide: Every batch of tea we procure is put up on our online tea store along with its invoice number, date of plucking, specialty and tea grade to make it a truly authentic tea experience.
Rishav Kanoi | The Tea Trove
Rishav Kanoi, 39, fell in love with tea a teenager. He went on to join the family business after completing his studies in 2003. “But the tea industry was going through a bad slump, and the business was facing multiple challenges,” he reminisces. Realizing the huge gap in prices between premium quality and medium grade teas, he convinced his family to invest in upgrading their factories, and within a short time, they started producing one of the best quality teas in Assam. After profitably exiting the family business, he went on to launch The Tea Trove café in Kolkata 2012 to rave reviews. The idea was to reinvent an age-old beverage and introduce innovative variations of tea that have mass appeal, especially with the youth. The unique value proposition hinges on targeting the premium customers with the broad product offering. “We have created various concoctions of iced tea, and all are natural, healthy and made from real ingredients, and available in specially designed tea bottles,” he adds. In an attempt to break away from the traditional tea retail/e-retail models, the brand has both tea outlets and website to encourage customer interaction and experimentation. “We are offering 15 variants of pure teas, which are best sellers in their individual categories, 36 variants of our special blends, seven variants of Ayurveda Teas and 22 variants of herbs, flowers, fruits and spices for customers to create their blend,” he adds with pride.
Gift item: A glass teapot with an infuser to make tea for one a festive experience.
Novel-tea factors: Tea Rewards points, tea of the month, subscription offer for the tea treat of the week, blend your tea options, free tea samples and tea filters, make the brand steaming hot.
Anamika Singh | Anandini Himalaya Tea
A tea drinker by birth, tea sommelier by passion and a tea-taster by profession, Anamika Singh, 46, says, “Tea connects to the soul as nothing does. And since it connects, I can relate to it and find happiness in every sip and so want to share it with tea lovers worldwide.” Her love affair with tea began 28 years ago when she decided to join her father Abhai Singh, a world-renowned tea specialist, and understand the finer nuances of the art of making tea. She went on to launch Anandini Himalaya Tea with her brother Kunal in 2013 to entice tea lovers into exploring the grand world of all the senses through its exquisite collection. “We believe in knowing the source. We can pinpoint the weather, the area where it is grown, and the time of the year it is plucked and packaged. This goes not only for the teas but also for the ingredients that we use to create our handcrafted blends by our in-house tea sommeliers,” says the young teapreneur. The newest in her collection is a range of seven Tisanes, and the most popular item is the set of Breakfast Tea. “We customise gifts that range from tea rolled in gold and silver to teas being in sync with the color of the theme chosen, customizing teas specific to genders, and creating blends for special occasions,” she adds. As for tea wares, it is glassware because “it enhances the beauty of the beverage.” All set to launch tea tourism this spring, she says, “We want to connect the source to the cup so that each and everyone who enjoys their cup of tea, appreciates and understands the process, connects with it and feels the energy of the estate and the local people. We will begin with our estate back in Dharamsala and then move on to Assam and Darjeeling.”
What’s special: Wulong Mun Peak, an exquisite, limited edition tea, priced at Rs 45,000 per kg.
Tea for thought: Natural is the way forward, and that is what is going to be in the cupboards of tea lovers and tea aficionados.
Bala Sarda | Vahdam Teas
Young teapreneur Bala Sarda comes with a lineage of over 80 years in the tea business; he is the fourth generation in his family to run a tea export business. Soon after finishing college, 26-year-old Bala joined his family bulk-tea-export business, and realised that there are major gaps in the supply chain at the source and the dependence of the industry on foreign brands. His solution to these was Vahdam (a reverse anagram of his father Madhav’s name) Teas, a home-grown direct-to-consumer e-commerce tea brand, in 2015. Today, Vahdam offers one of the largest collection of single estate teas, signature blends, gifts and assortments to connoisseurs across the globe. “Vahdam Teas works with about 175 tea plantations and small growers across all seven tea-growing regions in India. We procure leaves directly from tea growers within 24–72 hours of production; it is then flavoured and blended, vacuum packed and put online,” he says. The online-only brand has so far shipped to 83+ countries and counting. Their top markets are the US, but there are plans in the offing to enter the India market soon. “We make available tea both fresher and more cost efficient without the middlemen and are focussed on premium tea,” he quips. In barely three years since its launch, the company has managed to raise raised US$ 2 million and plans to focus on growth and ensuring quality at scale. “Kanwaljit Singh, who was the Head, Lipton (Unilever), invested in his personal capacity in 2016. And with our Series A funding, he invested with Fireside Ventures,” he adds.
Freshness delivered: The average delivery time to the US is four working days from despatch. It is a maximum of six days to Europe, North America, and South Asia.
Gifts wise: All its health benefits apart, our luxury tea collection is a promise of quality time and a celebration of fine moments.
Radhika Batra Shah | Radhikas Fine Teas & Whatnots
“Tea ain’t just chai or green. It’s a cup of instant happiness, “my go to” for the healing of mind-body-soul,”says Mumbai-based tea connoisseur Radhika Batra Shah, 38, whose love for tea led her to become a tea stylist and start India’s first tea boutique, Tea Cup in Bandra in 2006. “There wasn’t anyone who felt deeply about tea brewing and blending great organic teas. I started my tea brand way before people even knew the word organic in India. The boutique was a complete tea story with fine teas from around the world, tea books, tea ware and delicious accompaniments that soon became the perfect spot for tea lovers to enjoy their cup of tea,” she reminisces. She has collaborated with the best organic gardens of India and China, learning and researching the leaf from picking to packaging to the art of brewing all through, and till date thrives on discovering new brews and keep innovating it. Her brand Radhikas Fine Teas & Whatnots was launched in 2013 as a signature line of teas and Tisanes. So there’s tea for each part of the day, tea infused recipes and resonating tea benefits for three series – healing, romance and connoisseur – that are available online. Her premium brand offers 55 flavours of tea, a wide range of teaware in porcelain, glass to Yixing, all handcrafted by artisans and attractive gift sets from kettles to strainers, and tea experiences – tea ceremonies, tea appreciation, tea bar, high-tea service, tea etiquette training, tea menu creation, et all. The brand can be found at all leading online etailers like Amazon, Scootzy, Snapdeal, Big Basket, Radhikasfineteas.com as well as in the menus of leading hotels and restaurants.
Tea wise: It’s organic, curated by her personally where each leaf is pesticide free, dust free, pure, premium as precious as a newborn, audited and certified each year by IMO.
In the offing: Expanding to the international market with 17 flavours of pure desi chai and launching the brand with a global premium chain in Europe and the Middle East in spring 2018.
Snigdha Manchanda | Tea Trunk
Snigdha Manchanda perceives tea as a lifestyle product and not a commodity. She trained under Japanese Tea Master, Nao Numekawa and founded Tea Trunk in 2013. Her online brand curates ﬁnest teas directly from farmers and crafts them into unique tea blends with all natural ingredients. A trained Tea Taster who specializes in creating unique hand-blended teas, Manchanda, 34, is a certified Tea Sommelier. “All blends are 100% natural. No artiﬁcial ﬂavors or colors are used,” she quips. These luxury teas are available at high-end boutique stores, award-winning restaurants, cafes, spas and ﬁve stars hotels across India, and enjoyed in more than 10 countries. “Look at tea rituals around the world. The beauty of tea is not inherent in any one kind of tea; the focus has always been on the experience around it. Tea Tastings are a passe. They are limited to sampling different teas. We craft tea experiences that tell the wholestory. Tastings do not appeal to those who are casually interested in tea. We don’t restrict ourselves to only those who are serious tea drinkers. Tea is for everyone. Let’s make it fun,” she adds. She popularized Tea Appreciation and Tea Tasting events in India, and pioneered the much-admired Chai Walk in Mumbai and organizes Handcrafted Tea Parties. Her passion fortea extends beyond the trade. She plans to launch a Tea School to revolutionize academic opportunities to study tea. Snigdha’s vision is to set up a global learning hub for tea, in India. She says, “India without a tea school is like France without a wine school.”
Tea smart: An INK Fellowship awardee, she is an empanelled author and spokesperson for Tea Board of India.
What’s hot? Marigold Green Tea, Rose Oolong Tea, Saffron Kahwa Green Tea and Matcha Green Tea.
Vikram and Nikita Mittal | Mittal Teas
Established in 1954 by late BD Mittal, Mittal Stores is the first of its kind dedicated tea boutique in the Capital. Led by his son Vikram, 54, a professional tea taster, tea lecturer, and teaconsultant and granddaughter Nikita, 26, who joined the family business after earning a degree in engineering like her father, the brand is known not only for its wide variety of teas but for an unforgettable tea experience. Teas are personally chosen by Vikram from a wide variety after tasting hundreds of samples every season. “We offer exotic Indian teas from across the country as well as those from China, Japan, Sri Lanka and South Africa,” says Vikram. Mittal Teas has played a pioneering role in supporting Indian handicraft industries by using fine craft for packaging of teas. These exotic teas are available in beautifully handcrafted papier mache, wood, brass and silver containers which make unique gifts. “The different flavours of teainclude apple cinnamon, chocolate truffle, pina colada, rum, mango, lichee, black currant, peach, lavender, lemongrass, hibiscus, chamomile, and mint, though the quirky favourites are hibiscus and mint ice tea,” says Nikita, who launched herbal tea for dogs and conceptualized and started a Tea Street in Gurugram, which boasts of giving the same quality of tea as a five star hotel at one-tenth the price. The major takeaway for the father-daughter duo has been “the ability to provide a product that helps people take a much-required tea break, offering the finest quality of tea, rich in both taste and health.”
Booked for tea: Romancing Tea and Tea Talkies.
Plans in the offing: After Mittal Tea Room in Japan, we are getting ready to do a pilot in London.
Uday Mathur, Kavita Mathur, Sanjeev S Potti and Ganesh Viswanathan | Tea Trails
Launched in late 2013 by a group of entrepreneurs – Uday Mathur (59), Kavita Mathur (54), Sanjeev S Potti (42) and Ganesh Viswanathan (51), Mumbai-based Tea Trails has changed the rules of the game in the cafe space. The food pairing is a quintessential differentiator that sets it apart from others of the ilk. It offers gourmet tea drinking experience to a discerning consumer who gets to sip more than 80 varieties of tea from across the world with a desi twist. “We use versatility of tea and pair it with a wide variety of foods, from exotic and spicy Asian cuisine, to humble chocolate desserts,” says Viswanathan. The brand offers tea of various blends and added health benefits, the styles range from white to green tea and oolong to herbal tea along with a variety of freshly -brewed chais like adrak, pudina, five spices, masala, lemongrass, to choose from. Uday says, “Brewing tea is an ancient art which is seldom paid attention to. We, at Tea Trails, understand the importance of brewing and steeping high quality loose leaf teas to perfection, without which, the experience of drinking tea cannot be enjoyed to its fullest.” Tea Trails also offers bubble teas like the Taiwanese Bubble Tea and Tapioca Bubble Tea. It further specializes in an elaborate all day dining experience with a special mention ontea-infused dishes – Burmese Tea Salad, Tea Marbled Eggs, Tea Infused Thai Bowl and more. In today’s times, people of all age groups love to experiment with food and try out whatever is trendy. “Tea gives a distinct aroma and flavour to a dessert. Matcha a green tea from Japan is very rich in antioxidants and enhances the flavour when added to a dessert. Our Matcha infused Affogato is trending,” adds tea expert Kavita. After witnessing success and overwhelming response in Mumbai, Tea Trails has marked it presence in Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Vizag, Pune and Lucknow. “The company is on an expansion spree and aims to open 500+ outlets by 2021,” says Sanjeev Potti.
Tea wise: Our USP is tea food pairing and fresh food served with tea as a key ingredient
Chef’s choice: Matcha Affogato. Infuse a scoop of ice cream with steeped matcha green tea. Garnish with a table spoon of strawberry flavoured fruity bobas and serve.