The Economic Times
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| 03 March, 2021, 10:28 PM IST | E-Paper

How next-gen from families of traditional tea businesses are trying to give cuppa a hipper twist


Kolkata got its first specialty tea boutique way back in 1987 when Dolly Roy, India’s first woman tea taster and tea auctioneer, opened the doors of Dolly’s Tea

ET Bureau
Sumit Bagchi’s family has owned tea gardens in Assam, under the umbrella of Harishpur Tea Estate, since the early 1900s. In March, he and his wife Sulagna opened their first tea lounge RevvUp! QualiTEA at south Kolkata’s iconic Priya Cinema, the first ever diversification in its over 100-year history.

“We are using the existing ambience to take our teas directly to moviegoers. While we are serving typical Kolkata snacks such as samosas and jhaal muri along with tea, the food is underplayed,” explains Bagchi. The servers at RevvUp! interact with customers to promote and talk not just about traditional products from their gardens in Assam, such as second flush golden tips and green teas, but flavoured, masala-milk and energy-boost teas, too.

“We are looking at opening more outlets across Kolkata and then other cities in Bengal in the tea boutique/kiosk formats. If prices can be kept low, and quality up to the mark, there can be a huge demand for this format,” says Bagchi. He is clearly looking to promote tea among the young and trendy consumers in Kolkata and, in the process, replicate the success of coffee shops across India.

SUMIT AND SULAGNA BAGCHI FOUNDERS, REVVUP!, KOLKATA BACKGROUND: Sumit’s family owned tea gardens in Assam since the early 1900s

Serve it Hot & Cold
Kolkata got its first specialty tea boutique way back in 1987 when Dolly Roy, India’s first woman tea taster and tea auctioneer, opened the doors of Dolly’s Tea in a south Kolkata shopping complex. Now, a couple of decades later, a clutch of entrepreneurs are once again jumping onto the bandwagon with new formats of the tea lounge.

Rishav Kanoi, whose family owned and managed over 42 tea gardens in Assam since 1917, is one of them. Two years ago, he conceptualised and set up The Tea Trove, a high-street tea cafe in south Kolkata. He created his own recipes, which included strawberry-basil green tea that can even be served as a popsicle, to help market tea as a fun beverage for young consumers. “Now, in addition to the café, we have launched Tea Trove outlets in kiosk and mobile-cart formats at multiple locations across Kolkata, including malls, parks and offices,” says Kanoi. He is also in talks with franchisees and venture capitalists in Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bengaluru, with plans to open 30 outlets across these cities.

RISHAV KANOI FOUNDER, TEA TROVE, KOLKATA BACKGROUND: Family owned and managed over 40 tea gardens in Assam since 1917

He believes the unique offering of Tea Trove is the option for the consumer to make her own customised blends of tea. “Customers at Tea Trove can choose from a wide range of herbs, fruit extracts, flowers and spices. We also serve the blends in different ways — hot, iced, or with tonic/soda, among others. We save the recipe in our app and also deliver blended loose tea mix to homes or offices of customers,” adds Kanoi. While older and conservative clients still prefer to sip and even take home some of the freshly packed signature teas on offer, the younger crowd is attracted to tea espresso, tea frappes or Tom n Jerry (a cocktail of green tea and cola).

Tea or Coffee?
Per capita consumption of tea is three to four times that of coffee, which may perhaps make you wonder why there are more outlets of the latter than for the cuppa. This, however, could change, say experts. “The success of café chains across India can be attributed to the fact that coffee was considered a trendy and aspirational beverage for young people around a decade back. But that may be changing as the youth have started recognising the health benefits of tea not just in India but around the world. In India, too, health-conscious, upwardly mobile professionals have started drinking healthier options such as green tea and herbal tea and it is this lifestyle aspect that is helping tea lounges,” says Kajal Chanda, a tea industry veteran and expert based in Kolkata.

No surprise that Kolkata, with its deep culture of tea drinking and its proximity to the hills of Darjeeling, has a strong bond with tea. Bengal-based tea major Goodricke, too, has made a foray into exclusive tea lounges with the brand Goodricke Teapot. “Ideally we would like to have one lounge per year for the next five years in tier I and tier II cities and also look for an opportunity to open lounges overseas,” says Arun Narain Singh, managing director, Goodricke. He feels that many tea companies, small and big, have realised the need for exclusive tea lounges along the lines of coffee houses and a phenomenal growth in this segment is expected.

“The main objective of our tea lounges is to educate the consumer about tea. We are extending our brand to consumers and allowing them to taste fresh teas of various gardens, various flushes (first/second/autumn) and various origins. This will make the Indian tea brand stronger,” adds Singh.

Experiencing Fine Tea
According to provisions of the 12th Plan (2012-17), the Tea Board in India has an incentive scheme for entrepreneurs setting up boutiques for domestic promotion of tea. Under the scheme, the Tea Board handholds prospective entrepreneurs for three years in terms of financial assistance in order to showcase the wide varieties of Indian teas at one place and “excite customers — especially youth — about the qualitative nuances and the correct brewing method in a magnificent and aesthetic ambience”.

(L-R) SUHAIL, NIKHIL & SANJAY KAPUR FOUNDERS, SANCHA BACKGROUND: Started as a tea boutique and gallery in the heart of Old Delhi in 1981

Sancha, which started as a tea boutique and gallery in the heart of Old Delhi in 1981, now has three more across Delhi, Gurgaon and Mumbai. “We introduced to India highquality teas and signature blends that were unexplored. Our sommeliers at the boutiques have been trained to assist our customers by brewing various samples of tea and highlighting the various nuances of each cup as they sip the brew,” says Nikhil Kapur, director of business development, Sancha. Kapur’s father, Sanjay Kapur — passionate about fine Indian teas — had set up the company. “We offer the finest Darjeeling teas along with a range of green teas. Our typical customer is one who appreciates good food, wine and aromas — our tea is about a lifestyle. As the palate for quality food develops in India, our customer base will increase,” adds Nikhil Kapur.

GAURAV SARIA FOUNDER, INFINITEA, BENGALURU BACKGROUND: Saria’s family acquired tea estates from the British East India Company in the 1950s

Gaurav Saria, who launched Infinitea, a premium tea-room in Bengaluru in 2003, is now looking at expanding the chain within the city. “The decor at our two outlets is trendy, chic and relaxing. Customers who are well-travelled and health-conscious feel like they’ve walked into a tea spa. As we do not serve any other beverage, we automatically filter out a lot of the crowd,” says Saria, who calls himself the chief executive, tea master and executive chef of Infinitea and is from a family that acquired tea estates from the British East India Company in the 1950s.

“Coffee shops have a more cookie-cutter format and sales are driven by location rather than product,” says Saria. He feels that as more and more premium tea lounges open in India, the experience around a cup of tea will capture the interest of consumers. One of the challenges in Bengaluru and most of south India is that many people haven’t even heard of fine Darjeeling tea and don’t recognise it as a lifestyle brand.

Meanwhile, consumer goods company Hindustan Unilever has extended one of its tea labels into a tea house by converting a bungalow in suburban Mumbai into the Taj Mahal Tea House. Spread over 3,500 square feet, the outlet is a destination centre for over 40 fine teas, along with French cuisine. “For the last 50 years (since 1966), Brooke Bond Taj Mahal has stood for tea excellence, expertise, sophistication and connoisseurship. The tea house is meant to celebrate this rich heritage,” a company spokesperson said.

Customised Chai & More
If traditional companies — both Indian and multinational — are seeing an opportunity at the front end, so are first-generation entrepreneurs. For instance, three-year-old Chaayos, armed with venture capital funding — Rs 32 crore ($5 million) from Tiger Global in 2015 and Rs 2 crore before that in angel funding from Powai Lake Ventures — has set up a chain of chai cafés.

“Our unique proposition is fresh, customised chai served in a great ambience. We allow customers to personalise their chai with a variety of 12 add-ons and variation of milk, sugar and chai patti levels,” says Raghav Verma, an IIT alum and cofounder of Chaayos. Everything at Chaayos revolves around chai — from food such as vada pav, poha and bun maska to the rustic ambience to elements like kettles, jute bags and chai holders.

RAGHAV VERMA COFOUNDER, CHAAYOS BACKGROUND: Founded in November 2012 as a contemporary interpretation of the chai adda

“Though it is the product that brings the customer to Chaayos, it is the entire spectrum, from food to ambience, that creates the customer experience,” adds Verma. With 21 cafes in Delhi NCR and Mumbai, Chaayos plans to expand to all major metro cities in fiscal year 2017, including Bengaluru, Pune and Hyderabad.

Pankaj Judge, who founded Chai Thela a year back, has a vision of building India’s biggest chai-nashta chain. “Even though there are many coffee chains operating in India, not a single brand is profitable yet because of high rentals and capital expenditure for putting up big cafe formats. We, on the other hand, are focussed on giving access to hygienic chai in the range of `10-20 along with affordable nashta (breakfast) that one would get at a roadside thela such as instant noodles, poha and pakoda but in a more hygienic environment,” says Judge. Cutting chai, anybody?
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4 Comments on this Story

jitshukla1766 days ago
Sainath Kalpathy1767 days ago
most of this is hype and like modern art ! no purpose but a delight to rich n famous as they need to pretend to know more than others ! SADLY they dont !
Pushkar 1767 days ago
change is the part of life