It must be the air of Darjeeling. How else do you explain the change in plans of Souvik Nandy and Tathagata Samanta? Two Economics undergrads who reach the State Bank of India, Darjeeling for their summer internship. Their internship goes very well – from analyzing income statements and balance sheets, understanding unit economics and pricing choices, they are in their element. But a chance conversation opens up a new world. And before they know it, they are selling green tea to gyms in Kolkata.
What is it about the world of tea that so bewitched the duo that they bid goodbye to well set career paths? A France MBA degree had beckoned Souvik and Tathagata had plans to pursue a Masters in Economics. However, it was the world of tea tasting and blend creation that truly ensnared them.
How do two people who do not have any background in tea production, sales or blend creation get started? What are the choices that they can make to stand out in the century old, stable and competitive sector? Where should they go and learn the basics of this new-to-them sector?
While they did reach out to and receive guidance from seniors in the industry, Souvik says their real learning came when they did experimentation and dedicated tasting sessions on their own.
And on understanding the segment they finally chose to focus on, let us take a look at what they decided not to do. They elected not to go retail and they resolved not to sell commodity teas. Their plan was to provide high quality teas in bulk to businesses and boutiques that could then go on to sell to end customers.
From multiple visits to gardens and auction houses, both managed a rather steep learning curve in a short time frame. Not really the slow and steady approach but more the fast and furious one. Long hours, endless cups and some streaks of luck.
They offered their discerning customers internally created herbal blends as well as high value regular teas. Nostealgia, their firm, offers a minimum order size of 5 kg for both the blends and the high value regular teas. This has allowed the firm to remain differentiated – and the customers love it with some having been with Nostealgia for a long time. Their very first customer – the Medica chain of hospitals – is still a valued customer, five years later. Additionally, the 5 kg minimum order size ensures profitability from the very start for each one of Nostealgia’s customers. A smart move indeed!
Not ones to rest on their laurels, Souvik and Tathagata made plans to address a key problem that they themselves had faced – that of access to knowledge about tea and this industry. Cue in the Asian School of Tea – their latest idea that combines tourism with tea education. The School offers its customers multiple programs – options range from being a simple tea tourist to becoming a tea sommelier to a “create-your-own” program. Souvik has noticed a new trend – an increasing number of Indians are joining up expressing a need to learn more about this very Indian beverage. The initial phases had seen mostly foreign attendees.
And what is that cup of tea that he could have every day? That would be the hand made white tea from Adarsh Muna, a specialty garden in Gorubathan. More on that at a later date.
What after tea, tourism and teaching, we ask Souvik. And as he sips his favorite cuppa, Souvik says “Maybe something to do with Economics”. And laughs.