Coming from a family in the business of tea for decades, Punit Poddar has been a master taster of tea for 12 years. It thus won’t be an exaggeration to say that Poddar is passionate about tea. Turning the passion for tea to business was the only logical next step and came naturally to Poddar. Along with Soveet Gupta and Parvez Gupta, Poddar launched Udyan Tea in 2012 in Siliguri, a city in northern West Bengal, close to the lush tea gardens of Darjeeling.
Being Siliguri natives, the founders always had access to good tea from Darjeeling, which grows some of the finest teas in the world. However, not a lot of it is available locally in India as much of this high-quality produce is exported to foreign markets. According to reports, between April and October 2018, India’s tea exports stood at over $463 Mn. This is what Udyan Tea wanted to solve, bring quality tea to Indian consumers.
Udyan, which has sold over 20 Mn cups of tea to date through its web store and other online channels, it not only wants to produce unique concoctions of teas, and deliver some of the rarest varieties right to the doorstep of aficionados in India, but it’s also on a mission to change the way India looks at tea.
For decades, the Indian consumers has been largely unaware of the variety of teas available beyond their daily cup of chai. But, that is changing fast with the younger generation dabbling their hands in the green and white variety, as well as flower-based teas, and getting more experimental by the day. Catering to this are a huge number of startups with a wide variety of flavoured teas such as green tea, white tea, rose tea, detox tea and more.
“Udyan means garden and that’s what we represent – from the gardens. We strive to bring only the finest single estate tea as well as the most flavourful blends to the people, that we source directly from the estates,” emphasised Punit.
The Early Days At Udyan
The Udyan founders spent many months understanding which is the best selling strategy in the Indian market. This was a time when there was barely any ecommerce for tea in the country. So the onus was on companies such as Udyan to decide the format of selling, packaging, etc. And this was their greatest challenge.
One other challenge was educating potential customers and getting people to understand the existence of different kinds of tea. Added to that, people often did not fathom why any tea should cost INR 5K – INR 25K per kg. “Fine tea is like fine wine, and that is where the cost goes up as the quality goes up,’’ said Parvez.
To make consumers understand the reason for the premium pricing of the tea, Udyan stressed on the intricacies of tea production, right from sourcing to the processing which involves careful vacuum-sealing to how it ensures authenticity, “We need to give out as much information to the people as possible and hence decided on Single Estate teas — sold with the garden name along with a host of other information about them including flush, grade, origin, tasting notes and more,” said Punit.
Today, Udyan has over 100 unique tea products made from over 50 signature flavoured blends developed by an in-house tea master. The adoption has been very encouraging in the metros and Tier 1 cities in India with USA, Western Europe, Russia and a few Asian countries showing a healthy appetite for its products.
From Tea Leaf To The Final Brew
Freshness, authenticity and quality are what drives the product line at Udyan, claim the founders, and to ensure this, they source their teas directly from over 150 tea estates in Darjeeling, Assam, Nepal, Nilgiris among other regions. The tea is vacuum sealed the day that they are bought.
“Once vacuumed no external factors can affect the quality of the tea and the freshness is locked within. This also means that whenever a customer receives their tea, it is nearly as fresh as the day it was sourced and vacuum sealed. Through this, we are addressing a huge gap in making quality products available to consumers in this industry,” related Parvez.
When it comes to creating the flavoured tea blends, R&D plays a key role. “Each blend is the outcome of an extensive R&D process that we conduct and craft using the finest teas and ingredients that we so meticulously source,’’ Soveet added.
Making a cup of Udyan tea is a simple process of adding a small amount of tea to a cup, pouring hot (not boiling) water into the cup and brewing it for 3-5 minutes.
Beating Tea Competition
Where there is success, there is bound to be competition and Udyan has to compete with other players such as Tea Box, Kettlery, Infinitea in the market. To maintain headway, Udyan wants to continue its focus on online platforms for the time being, so far it has partnered with over 25 marketplaces, including some health-centric platforms. Additionally it is also working with subscription boxes for free sampling of its teas. “We are tying up with other companies’ subscription boxes like Sipsby in USA and Book Thela in India in order to reach highly targeted audiences,’’ emphasised Punit.
Despite their high prices when compared to the more ubiquitous CTC (crush, tear, curl) tea market in India, the opportunity for premium teas is huge and is growing at 40-50% annually. There is a rapidly emerging shift towards healthier options in all beverage categories, and millennial and Gen-Z audiences are increasingly opting for green teas, healthy teas, single estate blends and other niche tea options. Udyan is one of the many foodtech startups eyeing this audience and the influx of newer foodtech brands are in turn driving faster adoption in a digital-first consumer market.
Udyan Tea was a gifting partner at Inc42’s tech event — Pulse42.