At a time when doubts are being cast on the fate of India's colonial-era tea gardens, an online tea seller based in West Bengal's Siliguri District may finally have the formula for revival of the industry back home.
India is the world's No.2 tea producer but is less export-oriented than other producers thanks to its big home market, and Sri Lanka has been extending its lead as the world's third largest exporter behind China and Kenya, reported ANI.
However, Kaushal Dugar, a former corporate finance analyst in Singapore, chose to tap into the unexplored potential of the industry and founded Teabox- a premium tea brand which vertically integrates sourcing, branding and distribution of tea.
Dugar claims that in the three years since the establishment of Teabox, the start-up has sold more than 30 million tea cups in 90 countries.
"Whole idea was at the end of the day can we create a one stop place where people can access the best tea from India directly from source, which means directly from plantations through us," said Dugar.
India is known for producing some of world's best varieties of tea considered as good as the wines from France but, its production practices remain antiquated. Be it the CTC (cut, tear, and curl) or the orthodox tea, India specialises in both forms of production.
Teabox is eventually introducing the industry to technological innovations. Teabox's major chunk of earnings comes from sales outside India.
In order to reach out to the discerning connoisseurs across the world, Dugar chose to leverage the vast reach of internet.
Teabox stocks over 300 varieties of single estate tea, including its in-house blends, and procures from across India's northeast including from Darjeeling, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura; Nilgiri in the south and even Nepal.
"Being at the source we get tea within a day of production. Once you get the tea in our climate control warehouses, where we maintain the temperature, humidity, moisture and the light, so we take the tea through the intensive QC processes. Within 48 hours they are vacuum packed, they are cleaned of all dust (and) impurities and they are ready to be shipped. The tea which is not shipped is stored in our cold storage," said Dugar.
Dugar understands that tea is a time based product and if not stored properly both the colour and taste can be diluted. He says that Teabox stores the tea at minus five degree centigrade, which means tea's fragrance and quality will remain the same for two years.
The industry is also facing challenges from the cafes that have sprung up across the country in the past decade.
However, futuristic approach of companies like Teabox should help the industry grow better.
Agricultural expert, Vijay Sardana, says that the Indian tea industry needs to evolve to make an impact in the global market today.
"The biggest challenge in Indian tea industry is lack of innovation. We are growing tea but there are hardly any innovative products which are emerging because today if you see the market in India, the tea industry is facing problem from growing consumption of other beverages like coffee, soft drinks, health beverages (and) traditional varieties of beverages, so there is lot of competition emerging for tea and in order to retain this market leadership they have to do innovation," said Sardana.
Teabox could become a model for Indian entrepreneurs. With regular fundings, Dugar hopes to scale up operations and bolster India's image as a global tea player.