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Reinventing India's Tea Culture The Coffee Way

India is one of the largest tea producers in the world, holding great significance over the global production of tea.

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In a nation that loves tea, the brewed sugary drink is much more than just a beverage; it’s akin to an elixir to bond over! A large number of Indians cannot start their day without this cup of piping hot goodness. The beverage that originally came to India from China via the British has today become an intrinsic part of our culture. And yes, we have given it our own desi twist! Indians usually like their tea boiled fervently with milk and sugar unlike the gentle brew the British enjoy. 

India – a production and consumption hub  

India is one of the largest tea producers in the world, holding great significance over the global production of tea. Not surprisingly, over 70 per cent of its tea is consumed within India itself, making the nation one of the top 5 per-capita tea consumers. The nation also houses world-renowned teas, such as Assam and Darjeeling that have found fame and love amongst both connoisseurs and novices. The Indian tea industry has also grown to own many global tea brands that supply the beverage around the world. 

Yet, for a large part of the past three decades, this ‘desi’ drink was often relegated to conventional households considered by youngsters as a drink preferred by the elderly. The 1990s and 2000s brought a boom in India’s café culture. The emergence and popularity of hip coffee shops across the urban landscape with catchy taglines like ‘a lot can happen over coffee’, made coffee the preferred choice of the urban young. The humble tea stall could hardly match the trendy packaging and the hip presentation! 

Tea gets an image makeover 

Make no mistake, India is still largely a country of tea drinkers. A number of new-age entrepreneurs recognize this and have taken a lead in giving the traditional tea a bold and contemporary makeover. Diversification is often the key to reinvention. With a series of new and unique varieties introduced in the market and interesting concepts of vending have redefined the traditional ‘chaiwala’. 

With a noticeable shortage of quality spaces for serving tea, a number of startups have emerged in recent years with innovative and new ideas of ‘chai cafes’. Quaint tea cafes have gradually started mushrooming over the urban landscape, offering a beautiful experience at a nominal price. These cafes cater to young Indians by offering them an upgraded version of the tea stall, where they can sit back and relax. For example, Chai Point, a startup founded by a Harvard ex-student is one of the most flourishing tea cafe chains of the country. It was arguably one of the first tea-based startups to offer something new to tea lovers. Its USP is a separate tea counter for the smokers located outside the café. Chaayos is another such startup that serves 1200 different types of tea brewing.  

Tea delivery boutiques have followed the queue, providing you gourmet options at your convenience. Secondly, a lot of innovations are also being made, in terms of elevating the experience. From introducing a new flavour to packaging - tea is getting a makeover like never before. Gourmet tea boutiques even provide the facility of customization where you can customize the strength of flavour and the whole feel of the tea- creating an experience on its own. 

Tea delivery goes online  

Tea found in various shapes and sizes is also being introduced to the market, with online players pitching in their brands of innovation. With greater diversification of products and growing popularity of herbal, flavoured and green tea, a number of new ventures are also specializing in delivering different types of teas to your doorsteps. Teabox, a premium tea-selling endeavour that deals in loose tea leaves, deliver fresh tea leaves to customers from Darjeeling and Assam’s varieties to Neelgiris tea. Interestingly, Teabox directly deals with tea farmers, a process that eliminates the role of any third party.  

No wonder tea in India has come of age. As millennial tea-lovers look for a tea experience matching or even bettering the one coffee cafes have given over the years, new-age startups are ensuring that they do not miss the business opportunity.   

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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tea coffee beverage india innovation

Parimal Shah

The author is President International Operation, MK Jokai Group

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