11 September 2014

Teabox cuts tea supply chain to bring fresher teas to market

Kaushal Dugar's family has been in the tea industry for over 70 years. The CEO of Teabox, which was started in 2012, says the company was started to change things. 
Source: Teabox. Dugar.

"Entrepreneurship has always been my passion," he said. "Tea is a US$90 billion industry and despite India being the second-largest producer of tea, it isn't as popular as (tea from) Japan and China. This industry has been stuck with practices introduced 200 years ago."

Dugar explained that tea is traditionally sold in auctions after harvesting and processing. "From there, it takes almost five months and changes many hands before it reaches the customer. By this time, the tea loses all its freshness and flavour," he said. 

"I saw opportunity to give fresh tea to tea-lovers, straight from the source. And that is what I do with Teabox. One half of our team lives in Siliguri, Darjeeling, the heart of the tea gardens. We acquire the tea within 48 hours of production and ship it to our customers within a week. Fresh teas, from planter to customer – simple and hassle-free."

The startup has already attracted the attention of Accel Partners, one of the biggest investors in Silicon Valley, and a backer for Dropbox and Facebook. Teabox secured funding of US$1 million, and has not looked back since. 

Teabox currently stocks over 100 single-estate teas, the largest collection available. The company has shipped over 6 million cups of tea to date, and has a customer base that spans 74 countries.

"Aroma and tasting notes of the tea are described as akin to a fine wine or scotch. The year of picking, year of packing and various certifications such as 'USDA organic' and 'Fair Trade' are displayed so the users can make educated choices," Dugar said.

A visit to the Teabox website shows the level of detail that Teabox invests in each description. The 2014 Dooteriah China Special (Summer) Darjeeling black tea, S$9.81 for 100g, is said to be "A long and firm finishing tea... The dry leaves give off a woody scent with a hint of spice. Contrastingly, once brewed, the aroma is sweet, reminiscent of peaches and caramel. This character is followed through in the taste of the liquor, whose body is medium and possess just the right strength."

Steeping instructions are precise: the water should be at 90 to 100 degrees Celsius, and this tea should be steeped for four to five minutes.

Teabox also runs a monthly subscription programme called Fresh Beginnings, through which subscribers receive five new teas every month along with stories, anecdotes and information regarding tea.

"Tea without the cream and sugar is a very healthy beverage," Dugar noted. "Tea is high in antioxidants, which bind with free radicals in our body and eliminate them. When accumulated over time, free radicals are believed to cause cell damage and aging. Green tea and white tea are also rich in catechins, which have been shown to decrease the adverse effects of stroke, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases."

Teabox specialises in tea from India, which is known for black teas, unlike Japan whose matcha (powdered green tea) sets the standards for green teas, and China, which Dugar said "produces the last word in white teas". "Indian teas are brisk," he said. "Their flavours are explosive and pronounced, unlike their other Asian counterparts which are considered mild and delicate."
Dugar shared that there are three major tea-producing regions in India:

Teas from Darjeeling are considered the 'champagne' of teas. "With their light, delicate flavours and refreshing taste, they are a favourite among tea connoisseurs and novices alike," Dugar said.

The state of Assam produces the largest volume of teas from the country. "Assam teas are known for their brisk body and malty taste, making a great stand-alone breakfast tea. The Assam CTC* is also a favourite for making tea blends," Dugar added.

The Nilgiri district in South India produces lesser-known but excellent teas. "The black teas from this region are described as 'intensely aromatic', with a smooth finish," Dugar commented.

*'Crush, tear, curl' is a method of tea production.