Healthy treat in a cuppa

Bev­er­age com­pa­nies are cash­ing in on the grow­ing de­mand for or­ganic tea and cof­fee

Down to Earth - - NEW BUSINESS - | MUKTA PATIL NEW DELHI

Asteam­ing hot cof­fee can reCUP OF ju­ve­nate the tired soul of any cof­fee lover.But no in­stant cof­fee can match the aroma and flavour of freshly roasted cof­fee beans,a nd this is some­thing Del­hi­ites can­not boast of.

There is no en­ter­prise in Delhi that roasts its own cof­fee, ac­cord­ing to Ka­jal Ghosh, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of the gov­ern­ment-run Cof­fee Board’s Con­naught Place unit. The In­dia Cof­fee Cen­tre, lo­cated in Con­naught Place and run by the Cof­fee Board, is the only gov­ern­ment-owned re­tail cof­fee shop open to the pub­lic.The tiny shop was once a popular choice among cof­fee lovers for the freshly roasted cof­fee. But that was six years ago. The roast­ing process, which took place in the open, re­sulted in smoke and pol­lu­tion and was op­posed by neigh­bour­ing of­fices. Since then, the cen­tre has been sourc­ing roasted beans from plants in Ben­galuru. To­day, it only grinds and pack­ages its cof­fee in Delhi. Pre­mium cof­fee en­ter­prises like De­wan’s or Lavazza sell pre-roasted and pack­aged cof­fee, with a shelf life of almost a year.This re­duces its fresh­ness,taste and aroma.

This short­com­ing, how­ever, turned into a business op­por­tu­nity for cof­fee af­fi­ciona­dos Matt Chitha­ran­jan and his wife Namrata. The cou­ple moved to Delhi from Chen­nai two years ago. They soon re­alised how dif­fi­cult it was to get freshly roasted cof­fee in the cap­i­tal. “We would get it in Chen­nai around ev­ery street cor­ner,at ev­ery

kiosk. But Delhi has no cof­fee cul­ture to speak of,”says Chitha­ran­jan. It is their crav­ing for good qual­ity cof­fee that made them launch Blue Tokai Cof­fee in Jan­uary 2013.

Roasted cof­fee at doorstep

The ex­per­i­ment to start their own cof­fee brand be­gan when Chitha­ran­jan, a for­mer re­searcher with the In­sti­tute for Fi­nan­cial Man­age­ment and Re­search in Chen­nai, vis­ited the best cof­fee es­tates in south In­dia with his wife. They met cof­fee grow­ers and ex­per­i­mented with dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of cof­fee beans. After care­ful se­lec­tion and tast­ing, they short­listed green beans pro­duced in seven es­tates in the Nil­giris and in Has­san, Coorg and Chik­man­glur dis­tricts for their ven­ture. Three of th­ese es­tates are or­gan­i­cally cer­ti­fied.

What makes Blue Tokai spe­cial, be­sides their wide se­lec­tion of brews, is the company’s prom­ise to ship the cus­tomer’s choice of cof­fee within 24 hours of roast­ing, so that it is de­liv­ered fresh. Most of its cof­fee is shipped to re­tail stores in Mumbai, Ben­galuru and Delhi, with which the company has tie-ups, as well as to in­di­vid­u­als.

Blue Tokai has wit­nessed a boom in business within two years. Set up with an in­vest­ment of a lit­tle over 20 lakh, the

` company to­day has grown into a self-sus­tain­ing unit. Its sales in­creased from 2.5 tonnes in 2013 to 7.5 tonnes in 2014. BlueTokai Cof­fee charges be­tween 300

` and 350 for 250 gm of roasted cof­fee beans

` and pow­der,much higher than 100 per 250

` gm sold by the In­dia Cof­fee Cen­tre.But the lat­ter is not or­gan­i­cally cer­ti­fied. Chitha­ran­jan says his is a niché brand whose prod­uct is highly priced, but this is not too much for the dis­cern­ing cof­fee drinker.

Chal­lenges, how­ever, re­main. “Since our cof­fee is al­ready highly priced, we had to find other ways to cut costs, like ne­go­ti­at­ing bet­ter shipping rates,” Chitha­ran­jan adds.

Some of the high-end re­tail chains and cafes in Delhi with which Blue Tokai has tied up to mar­ket its prod­uct in­clude La Bodega, Chez Nini and 3 Win­dows Café, as well as stores like Le Marche, The Al­ti­tude Store and Green the Gap Col­lec­tive. Many of th­ese only sell Blue Tokai’s or­ganic va­ri­ety. Dik­sha Bha­tia, op­er­a­tions man­ager of Green the Gap,says,“Our cus­tomers are try­ing to make more re­spon­si­ble choices and want to be care­ful about their eat­ing and drink­ing habits. We have been stock­ing or­ganic Blue Tokai roasts since the past year and they do pretty well.While they were pur­chased more by for­eign­ers ear­lier, now even Del­hi­ites are de­vel­op­ing a taste for it.”

Bank­ing on the de­mand for or­ganic, other com­pa­nies are also woo­ing their cus­tomers. Ker­ala-based In­her­i­tance In­dia prom­ises or­ganic cof­fee to the health-con­scious cof­fee lovers. Its cof­fee is sold un­der the re­tail name Re­For­est Gourmet Cof­fee. The company works through sub­scrip­tions. Most of its cus­tomers are reached through word of mouth and email. The pure Ara­bica va­ri­ety is sold at 1,400

` per kg, twice the price of De­wan’s Ara­bica roast. But the high price does not cover the cost of grow­ing cof­fee or­gan­i­cally. Ly­gia Mathews, one of the direc­tors, ex­plains that the gap is com­pen­sated by the car­bon off­sets gen­er­ated by af­foresta­tion ini­tia­tives that are in­te­greted with the ven­ture.

Tea for the health-con­scious

Or­ganic tea is also catch­ing up. Bud White Tea, a pre­mium tea brand, was launched in 2013 by San­jay Gupta, who hopes to com­bine his pas­sion for tea with the tremen­dous business op­por­tu­nity in the sec­tor. All of his tea is sourced from cer­ti­fied or­ganic farms in Dar­jeel­ing, Nepal and Assam. Most of it is sup­plied to re­tail­ers, but almost 20 per cent of the sales come from on­line shop­pers.

What dif­fer­en­ti­ates Bud White Tea from the other re­tail­ers is the form of tea. Un­like oth­ers, Bud White Tea is sold as the whole tea leaf and not as pow­der. “We have spe­cially de­signed tea bags to ac­com­mo­date the whole leaf so that it ex­pands when dipped in hot wa­ter,” Gupta says. He cur­rently sup­plies over 40 dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of tea, in­clud­ing black, green, oo­long, white, herbal and flavoured. While most pre­mium, nonor­ganic whole leaf tea is sold at 3,500

` 4,000 per kg on an av­er­age,or­ganic tea costs ` almost 40 per cent more,he says.

Vas­ant Mantry,owner of Top Qual­iTea, a re­tailer sell­ing both or­ganic and in­or­ganic tea, says, “The de­mand for or­ganic tea has grown in the past seven to eight years.In­di­ans to­day do not mind shelling out that ex­tra bit of money for bet­ter health.”

The revo­lu­tion in the drink­ing habits of ur­ban In­dia is not sim­ply a ques­tion of health,but also of chang­ing tastes.And new busi­nesses have gone out of their way to cul­ti­vate the taste buds of their con­sumers with in­no­va­tive mar­ket­ing strate­gies.3 Win­dows Cafe or­gan­ised a brew­ing brunch last year so that their cus­tomers could in­ter­act with the Blue Tokai team and learn about roast­ing and brew­ing prac­tices. Bud White Tea or­gan­ises tea-tast­ing ses­sions and tea par­ties as re­quested by cus­tomers and even has a tea-brew­ing guide avail­able for down­load on its web­site.

While most pre­mium, non-or­ganic, whole leaf tea is sold at ` 3,500-4,000 per kg, or­ganic tea costs 40 per cent more

Blue Tokai Cof­fee prom­ises to ship their cus­tomer's choice of cof­fee within 24 hours of roast­ing to en­sure it stays fresh

The pyra­mid­shaped tea bag of Bud White Tea

leaves room for the whole tea leaf to ex­pand when dipped in

hot wa­ter

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