This Dweller resides in your cup

The year just going by – 2018 – witnessed a young startup taking shape in the form of Dweller Teas.  Eli Yambem’s brainchild, Dweller is putting Manipur on the map for stimulating indigenous flavors and blends.

The Assam Valley School at Tezpur stretches over an extremely picturesque 95 hectares.  Founded by the Williamson Magor Education Trust, it is one of the preeminent boarding schools in India.  The Williamson Magor group is amongst the largest producers of tea worldwide and Tezpur’s environs house a few of India’s most exquisite tea estates.   It was in this school that Eli Yambem spent seven formative year. The tea leaves do seem to have seeped in.

Schooling was followed by a college education in Warwick, UK.  Eli’s interests now coalesced around Finance and Accounting and she quickly cleared her Chartered Accountancy following the Warwick degree. A dream job in investment banking beckoned – she did a two year stint in London and then shifted to the rapidly growing Asia hub of Singapore.  Singapore being a location closer to home was a big draw for the shift.

Eli Yambem

It was in 2016 that the allure of the homeland became too strong to resist. Craving to do something with and for the local livelihood in North East India, Eli narrowed down her ideas to becoming a tea entrepreneur. She left Singapore and moved to Guwahati and approached the study of tea with the same rigor and discipline that had guided her on foreign shores. Learning about assessing the quality of tea with J Thomas and food processing at the Regional Office of IIFPT (Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology), creating her own blends and testing and tasting them, the first year, she says, was hectic.

Dweller is someone who dwells or lives in a particular place, and she wanted to focus on the local strengths of the place she grew up in for sustainable livelihoods, she explains. Her plan was to offer the benefits of unique, indigenous fruits and herbs in the convenient form of tea. Such horticultural produces occupy an important role in sustaining livelihoods of at least 50% of the rural population. However the seasonality, perishable nature and lack of proper post-harvest management results in loss and unrealised potential. Value additions such as developing fruit and herbal infusions not only help in extending the shelf life, but also helps to offer naturally delightful sips to customers and create opportunities in the North East.

Come June 2017 and the product launches commenced.  When asked what made her decide on the initial set of products she chose to launch, Eli was clear. They were the natural flavours she grew up relishing, particularly Hei Mang Red tea and Fruity Roselle Tea.

The Hei-mang Red Tea is relished by the dwellers of Manipur for its citrusy flavour and for being a delicious digestive aid. The grandmas would soak Hei-mang fruit in water overnight for refreshing sips the next day. Commonly called as chinese sumac or nutgall tree, Hei-mang is traditionally known to be a good source of tannin, a naturally occuring polyphenol (an antioxidant).

The Fruity Roselle Tea is a naturally caffeine free blend has a vibrant red personality with a cranberry-like flavour and hints of citrusy olive. Rich in Vitamin C and traditionally consumed after meals for smooth digestion, it’s saved for joyful moments with friends and family. Sadly, market visibility had declined over the years due to limited reach, and now Eli and her team are working directly with growers to bring this naturally grown produce back.

Another blend which is becoming one of the flag bearers for the brand is Nong-mang-kha Ginger Green Tea. Nong-mang-kha is a traditional medicinal plant, used for treatments such as cold, cough and fever by the dwellers of Manipur. It’s traditionally known to have antibacterial and antiviral properties. It’s commonly planted for house fencing, food and to psychologically protect from the evil spirit!!

Eli made other important choices – she was keen to directly speak and interact with her customer base and that led to a focus on offline sales. Dweller Teas, sold mainly through retail shops in the region, is only now making its way to Amazon as also the company website at
www.dwellerteas.com

Team meeting

We asked Eli for advice to entrepreneurs.  Ensure high quality of your product consistently, she says. For that reason, Dweller spans the entire process – from encouraging locals to grow the plant to cutting the leaves and finally processing, packaging and retailing them – thereby ensuring a consistent finish. Another element of her start-up has been start small, prove the concept to herself and the team and hiring only when the existing team could not handle the workload and hiring for attitude and not degrees.

The Dweller Cafe

She has set now up Dweller Teas & Snacks – a small café where you can could enjoy the experience of local grown produces and delights and join the team for a cuppa (do check out the entire range of teas available) and have conversations that can circumnavigate the globe – from London to Imphal via Singapore and Guwahati.

We do hope that this new startup, Dweller will soon cohabit your shelf space. Wishing you a very happy 2019!!

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