What are the odds?

What are the odds? Of two boys from Mumbai who never crossed paths growing up and moved overseas for their education and jobs, teaming up to form a venture to sell specialty teas. What are the odds that tea would percolate into one person’s life when in Argentina on his way to Antarctica. And that the other would get charmed in the more worldly surroundings of London in an East India Company’s store.  What are the chances that when there are more than 25 specialty tea companies in India, that their fledgling 4 month old company’s tea would find an immediate acceptance with some of India’s most demanding restaurants and cafes. Meet the duo beating these odds – Shariq Ashraf and Bhuman Dani and check out their firm, The Good Life Company (TGL).

Bhuman Dani, Shariq Ashraf
Bhuman Dani and Shariq Ashraf with the TGL logo depicting a tea horse carriage

The tall and suave Shariq speaks in tranquil and measured tones. Bhuman is passion uncontrolled. Shariq understands discipline and structure. He captained his Singapore Management University’s karate team  winning a silver, gold and gold in his three years of competing at the Inter University level. He also secured a bronze representing Singapore at the Asia Pacific Championships. Started learning at the age of 5 and never stopped. Bhuman has an all consuming drive. When he wanted to understand specialty teas, he met with over 20 owners running that business in India, with tea masters of different estates all over the world, with renowned global retailers of specialty teas and only then did he finalize his gameplan.

Growing up in Mumbai was not the only similarity between Shariq and Bhuman. Both have fathers who are successful entrepreneurs. Both possess the spunk to try different things till they understand what really excites them.  There is that need to parse risk and to ensure that any offering they create is differentiated from competitors. This seems to come naturally to the pair.

For Shariq, the introduction to serious teas came when he walked into a Tealosophy shop in El Calafate, Argentina. The aromas and the setting, the taste and the sheer range had such an impact that he postponed his Antarctica trip, made his way to Buenos Aires and sought out Inés Berton – the pioneer behind Tealosophy. He was to work with Inés for 30 days and develop an abiding appreciation and understanding of high quality tea and blends. In a parallel world, Bhuman was to be allured by the teas on offer at the Conduit Street store of East India Company in Central London. He was to train with Jane Pettigrew and spend hours with Sanjiv Mehta, East India Company’s owner, seeping in this new world.

While Shariq and Bhuman explored teas, their day jobs were with – this-happens-only-in-the-movies – the same company – The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). While Bhuman was with the London office (after his MBA at INSEAD and his undergraduate degree at BITS Pilani, Dubai), Shariq had been working with the Melbourne office (after his MBA at Oxford and undergrad at Singapore Management University). It would be a chance encounter at a BCG alumni meet in Mumbai in early 2016 when the two would get to meet for the first time. Maybe they discussed their passion for tea over a cup of tea. :). That meeting would lead them to co-found The Good Life Company (TGL).

For the new company, the co-founders devised a template that firm would always adhere to – the core principles, so to speak. Firstly, they would source tea from the provinces and estates they grow best in. For black tea,  TGL today goes to the Uva Valley in Sri Lanka and Darjeeling in India; the  whites and the greens come in from the Yunan and Fujian province of China and the tea gardens of Uji in Japan. The oolongs are sourced from Nantou county in Taiwan. One of them visits the estate, understands the ethos of the place and TGL commences sourcing only if the ethos matches their own.

Secondly, there would be an equally focused drive to source the best ingredients for blending – today TGL’s mangoes come from India, schizandra berries come from East Russia, muira puama from the Amazon rainforests, barberries from Iran, thistle flowers from Scotland and mallow petals and chamomile flowers from Europe. And their third principle – a key to their founders-cannot-be-expected-to-know-it-all-thinking – is the reliance on the services of a recognized tea master.  As we know, a tea master is usually someone who has tasted more than 300,000 to 400,000 teas after having spent upwards of a decade in this field. Tasting close to 500 teas a day, a master has the ability to recognize flavors and characteristics and grade any tea in just a few seconds. These principles translate to a collection that is outstanding and non-conventional. Instead of a stereotypical Green tea with lemon option, you get a green sencha tea mixed with mango, banana, melon, guava, sunflowers, cornflowers and passion flower leaves. A heady concoction indeed.

Their collection has three categories – the Connoisseur, exquisite teas usually not blended; the Wanderlust, these are teas blended with spices, fruits, flowers that making for an aromatic journey; and the Dessert, where you could find actual chocolate nibs or detect notes of champagne. A Bengaluru customer went so far as to say that their teas that “actually mimic flavour profiles of famous desserts and wines is positively genius”. With a total of 24 options growing soon to 30, the collection makes for addictive aromas and tastes.  A portion of this collection is available restaurants like Smoke House Deli, Yauatcha, TAG GourmArt by Chef Ranveer Brar, Burma Burma, Koyla and Cafe Basilico in Mumbai, at Fatty Bao and Noodle Bar pan India.

TGL’s plans include opening retail stores at select outlets all over the country, expanding their offering and bolstering the online availability. What are the odds, come 2018 that a tea lover will not have tasted one of their teas. Very slim to none, we guess.  TGL alongwith Shariq and Bhuman will soon be very highly regarded players in the growing tribe of specialty tea companies.

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