I like tea. So, when I heard that a Harvard Business School graduate decided to get into the tea business, I thought we were in for a true son-of-the-soil story. Oh, I forgot. I am a cynic. I am not supposed to like all this. There has to be a niggling thought.
Right. It is a bit more than niggling. People enter these top institutes and then decide to give it all up. It is rarely simple. I have met a few who did quit cushy jobs because of conviction. Amuleek Singh Bijral tries his hand at modesty:
“There are thousands of chai wallas in this country and I’m just one of them. The beverage that I sell has a history of three and a half thousand years. I have a technology background and I sell tea. People think it’s exotic and unconventional... I don’t.”
One, he was addressing students from the Indian Institute of Management and other biggie schools on the subject of “unconventional entrepreneurs”.
Two, he is the owner of Mountain Trail Foods and his Amuleek Chai Points have ten outlets all over Bangalore.
Three, if it is not all that exotic, then why does he bring in history? Do those thousands of chaiwallas think like him?
Among his staff are IIT and IIM graduates. This is just another business enterprise. As expected, there is a tendency to believe they are better and will offer something more:
“Chai is a global phenomenon. Everywhere I go I see people cribbing about lack of good tea. I wanted to do a scalable business and one that had a big market. Chai provided both.”
Everything has to be a phenomenon. Chai is part of the imbibing habits of people across the world, just as performing morning ablutions is. It does not become a global phenomenon. Indian tea has always been in demand – whether it is Darjeeling, Assam, or the green tea from Kashmir.
The problem with the unconventional entrepreneurs is that profit-making is the sole imperative, whatever else they may say. It is fine for their benefit, but this is one more attempt – and I am not singling out this gentleman – to create a different demand. It works in tandem with the multinational ethos.
How does it alter the social consumer landscape? It could take away the business from smaller companies and most certainly from the small chaiwallas. It will not be much different from the Baristas. You make it into a corporate culture and automatically it is seen as organised, clean, efficient and of superior quality. Add to this, the man is from Harvard, so he will be better at reading tea leaves. Crystal ball gazing is big business, isn’t it?
Imagine, the locals saying, “Brake-fast at Tea-fanny”…
On a personal note, I like tea in so many different ways. There is the green tea that has to just have a touch of the fragrance; a little more and it is not green anymore.
For regular tea, I do a yoyo between the wimpy version where the flavour is left to the imagination and the several types that hit you. We call the first light tea. Who can forget Farooque Sheikh’s character in the delectable Sai Paranjpye film Katha twirling the keychain and saying that he only drinks light tea? It was an indication of being westernised.
Brewed tea can be brewed delicately, with tea leaves added to boiling water and left for a couple of minutes. Or it can be introduced at the beginning and go on and on to become ‘kadak’ (strong). Most Indians like it this way. There are some who will have tea only ‘cooked’ in milk - the famous doodh patti chai. One can add saffron to it.
I love my masala chai. I don’t care about the travesty of it. Tea without a touch of ginger and cardamom may be pure, but I like to sin.
I believe that too is a global phenomenon…