More than just a cup of tea

To understand the economics and inspiration behind starting out their journey, BWH talks to new-age consumer driven start-ups who are keen on empowering Indian tea globally

From eons, tea has been considered as the key to good health, wisdom and happiness, especially in the East. In fact, some studies have found that the beverage may help with diabetes, heart disease and even cancer as also lower cholesterol levels, aid weight loss and increase mental awareness. In India, despite coffee having caught the savvy of the young generation which forms the majority of our population, tea is still considered as a preferred beverage in most households. On an average, Indians drink about three to four cups of tea a day, sometimes even more, depending on the geographical location they belong to.

Now, this doesn’t come as a surprise as India is the second largest producer of tea in the world, with the roots of the tea industry dating back to around two centuries back. According to the Tea Board of India, there are currently 1,585 tea gardens in the country which employees a workforce of over 11 lakh and on an average, 89 per cent of the Indian tea produce is consumed domestically (1,145 million kg in FY 2020-21).  A survey conducted by the Tea Board of India reveals that within the potential tea drinking population in a household, the penetration of tea is around 96 per cent and around 64 per cent of Indian population drinks tea. 

Eyeing the potential of this sector, companies and entrepreneurs have been tapping into the business to fulfill the need of the common man to have a cup of tea whenever they step out. Today, one can find tea vendors throughout the length and breadth of the country. What’s more! These vendors operate from swankiest of outlets with trendiest of interiors. The idea is no more to have a discussion standing on a roadside sipping tea but indulging in a chai pe charcha in a more relaxed atmosphere.


The brainchild of Nitin Saluja, Chaayos was born out of the requirement to have a cup of fresh and hygienic tea made to liking outside home. While staying in Houston during the winters of 2010, Saluja wanted a good cup of tea but given the lack of options, he returned empty-handed. “The event got me thinking about the possibilities when it came to tea. Lack of options even for India made the idea stick. I researched over the next 12 months and decided to move back,” he puts in. The brand sources tea from proprietary CTC blend from Assam.

After opening its first outlet in 2012, Chaayos has come a long way. Over the last nine years, Saluja says he had to face many challenges. “However, we have always tried to be one of the most customer-centric companies. There are always ways to save money or increase revenues at the cost of customers.” As an organisation, Chaayos considers it harakiri and have refrained from those ideas no matter how tough the times are.

An avid tea lover, Shiva Bhardwaj always struggled to get the same taste of tea each day. He shares that he could never find any vendor who could serve him the same taste every day and the ones who were able to deliver the consistency were not worth spending that much money on. “You can manage it for a few days but not every day,” he says, adding this disruption led him and his team to lock the ingredients of a perfect cup of tea and make a premix. “And that is how we started Chai Patram,” shares the COO of Chai Patram.

With most of the brands providing tea as per customer’s likings and requests, one of the biggest struggles Bhardwaj faced during his initial days was to make people accept Chai Patram’s tea as that one perfect cup of masala tea because everyone has a different definition for their perfect cup. To maintain the consistency, the brand currently serves only masala tea which is prepared with strict guidelines on ingredients and cooking time. “Everyone would come with their own suggestions and then we had to convince them to try our tea once. The good part was that we had to convince them the first time and then they would get used to our taste,” he happily shares.

When Bhrigu Dutt started the concept of pocket café called Chai Garam in 2008, he claims there was no organised retail place selling freshly brewed tea. “All we would get was tea made using tea bags or vending machines,” the Founder and Director of Chai Garam says. To combat this issue in the market, Dutt established his brand to serve authentic freshly brewed tea using 100 per cent organic tea leaves and spices that are specially curated by the company’s expert tea tasters. “Most of our tea comes from Darjeeling and Assam,” he marks.

In the early days of last decade, Chirag Yadav, Founder and Managing Director of Chaipatty, wanted to open an affordable chai hangout place that gives a sense of homely space, and offers freshly prepared Indian national drink, tea. He says, “A cheaper price range menu that is much lower than competition is what makes us very different from other players.” It was purely on impulse that got Yadav his first outlet spot, the shack like roadside ambience with floor seating, very rustic with lots of colours. But the main challenge for him was to evolve as the best hangout space that was not only great for friendly meet-ups for the youth but also for senior adult formal meetings or casual post shopping munching or even family get-togethers. “It was our motto to make Chaipatty a mandatory visit spot for all our customers or guests whenever they indulge upon a simple market visit in and around our location area ensuring nowadays a definite chai snack craving Chaipatty visit by them,” he explains.


The growing demand for tea in India is constantly picking numbers and so are its varieties. The tea brands are persistently innovating as per the market demands. There was a time when black tea, green tea or lemon tea were in high demand. Courtesy the pandemic, people have gone back to their roots to have masala chai as it consists spices known to boost immunity. There has also been a pent up demand of herbal and organic teas, considering the aftermath of coronavirus.

Bhardwaj points out that tea is a part of people’s regular routine and they did not wish to have tea from a café in the past. But in recent years, he claims to have witnessed a lot of change to this ideology. “People now prefer tea even when they are out in the market or in a café. Interestingly, this is only 10 per cent of change that we have seen and 90 per cent is yet to happen,” he asserts. Having similar thoughts, Saluja shares that the growth of tea consumption out of home will continue to grow rapidly and faster than most other foodservice categories. “We believe the time is ripe for overseas expansion too as people have increasingly become more conscious regarding health benefits of tea and are increasingly becoming wary of coffee. Moreover, globally there is no chai company while the world has oversupplied with coffee cafes,” he notes.

Having similar thoughts, Chaayos’ founder, Saluja shares that the growth of tea consumption out of home will continue to grow rapidly and much faster than most other foodservice categories. “We believe the time is ripe for overseas expansion too as people increasingly become more conscious regarding health benefits of tea and increasingly becoming wary of coffee. Moreover, globally there is no chai company while the world has oversupplied with coffee cafes,” he puts in.

Yadav says the demand of tea is huge as it is known as India’s national drink but to cater to this requirement, the players should not move away from the basic essence of Indian taste. “If the entire Indian market follows foreign-style of machine chai offerings, the craze will linger for a while but diminish eventually leading to the outside home/ office demand dying up,” he observes.

Considered as the most convenient beverage to prepare, tea has abundant advantages, from physical to mental health. While this beverage has aided mankind for over two centuries in the comfort of their homes, there has been an uptick in demand for a hygienic and fresh cup of tea in the markets over the last one decade. And it is here that the retailers play a significant role in generating awareness and influencing tea purchase. Tea is the only constant that flows throughout our country and players like Chaayos, Chai Patram, Chai Garam and Chaipatty are keeping the spirit alive through their unique offerings.

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'F&B SPECIAL ISSUE VOL 7, ISSUE 5'


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