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The Tea Of The Future

With the idea of delivering fresh tea within the days of production, rather than months, to consumers worldwide, Dugar started what he firmly believed was a viable business, which was initially called Darjeeling Tea Express

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In a world with much strife and turmoil, there’s nothing more comforting than a perfect cup of tea. Soothes the nerves and settles the mind, almost like meditation, as anyone who loves tea will tell you. “Tea is quiet and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty,” says James Norwood Pratt — an author and authority on tea and tea lore.

But is your cup of tea really as perfect as it could be? Probably not! says Kaushal Dugar, founder and CEO of Teabox — a startup that makes tea its business from “end-to-end.” It’s very unlikely to be fresh. “By the time the tea reaches the consumer, whether it is in Tokyo, or London, or anywhere else, it has already lost most of its freshness,” says Dugar. “Tea is like a fine wine. It’s all about the quality and the taste, after all!”

The Teabox founder and CEO knows his tea well, as he comes from a tea family. Tea has been the family’s business, and he has grown up around the tea estates in Assam. Before starting Teabox, Dugar worked with a tea export firm for a certain period, where he got the opportunity to become intimately familiar with the entire supply chain and logistics of tea export. It meant being able to identify those gaps in the system that, if fixed, could make a very big difference and present a viable business opportunity. “Tea has been one of those industries that has hardly changed in the past 150-200 years,” says Dugar, “Things are still done in the same way, as it used to be at the time of the British. The way of manufacturing the tea, maintaining the production, and the auctions to which the tea goes after that. An exporter buys the tea, and sells it to an importer and the importer sells it to the wholesaler, then to the retailer and finally it reaches the consumer,” he explains. “I realised that between production and consumption, there are three to six months of delay, which I think in today’s age is definitely unjustified,” he says.

Dugar started Teabox to cut down the long journey that the tea makes from plantation to tea-drinker by cutting down on the points in between and the number of middlemen involved. With the idea of delivering fresh tea within the days of production, rather than months, to consumers worldwide, Dugar started what he firmly believed was a viable business, which was initially called Darjeeling Tea Express. “From many English-speaking countries such as Canada, Australia, etc., people found that someone can deliver the very popular Darjeeling tea straight from the source and within days,” said Dugar. “They realised the quality was unparalleled when they tasted the tea. So we started having customers come back to us for ‘real Darjeeling tea. Then we scaled it up to include all varieties of tea from all regions in India and Nepal.” The tea industry is approximately $40 to $60 billion and the high-end tea exported from India is around $8 to $10 billion worth, according to Dugar.

Raising about $1.5 million from Accel Partners about a year and a half ago, Dugal set up the Teabox office in Bangalore from where he put tea and tech together, essentially becoming the Uber of high-end tea.

The interesting twist in the teacup is that one can subscribe to the tea of one’s choice.

From the Teabox Website, a customer can order tea on a regular basis and can discover new teas by a process of answering questions about one’s tastes (such as for chocolate). The result throws up the names of teas that the person is likely to enjoy. A beautiful box of curated teas is then sent off to the customer to sample. A great deal of importance is placed on the packaging, as the idea is to create India’s first global tea brand, according to Dugar. “When we look at the global tea brands, none are from India. Others buy the tea and create the brand. We have great domestic brands and so our idea then became to leverage the power of technology to reach consumers around the world with a multi-million brand that was Indian,” said Dugar. “The branding is therefore very important because tea is difficult to sell to customers, who want what they have always had.” Teabox raised another round of funding of about $6 million and scaled the business as well as expanding it to control the whole supply chain from sourcing to end-consumer. Teabox also now has the country’s first cold storage for tea.

Teabox has now shipped 30 million cups of tea to around 90 countries with Russia and China being the largest markets. “Today Teabox is not selling anyone’s brand, but is a vertically integrated brand,” says Dugar. “It’s for tea connoisseurs worldwide.”

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