There comes a time in life when one discovers the bliss of a fine cup of coffee, over our imperialist gift of chai. Some would disagree: they would say our summers have been made better by accessing an orgasmic cup of freshly-brewed coffee. Brands like Sleepy Owl, Blue Tokai and Flying squirrel have managed to tap into this opportunity, with their unique offerings.
Sipping down the memory lane
For ages, Indians have imagined picture perfect mornings with a ‘garam chai ki pyali’ and a newspaper. Even neighbourly gossip and intense political discussions have been happening over a cup of tea. In fact, Indians consume a whopping 837,000 tonnes of tea every year! “India’s ‘chai culture’ lends itself to habitual consumption, and unlike other food products, with little onset of product fatigue,” says Kiranbir Nag, Partner, Saama Capital.
In India, the consumption of tea for restorative and therapeutic purposes dates back to 500 BC. The sector renewed itself during the British rule, when the conquerors offered land in Assam and Darjeeling to rich Europeans for tea cultivation. The produce was then exported to various European countries. The trend stayed on in India, and we have now acquired a taste for tea with a trace of milk and sugar.
Today, India is the second biggest producer of tea. The custom of tea drinking has been imbued across India and numerous parts of the world. As a matter of fact, our very own Prime Minister has been endorsing himself as a ‘chaiwala’. But now it has a new avatar: ‘the kadak chai and dunked bread’ combo has been supplanted by boutique mixes, high-quality implantations and tasting sessions. Irrespective of its form, chai is no more just a beverage, but is woven into the fabric of this nation.
The tea market has suffered lately. Today, it is inadequately exported. In the past decades, numerous tea producers have seen tumults, closedowns and significant players getting pushed out of the imposing global market. The Indian ‘chai culture’ is slowly losing its original sanctity. Simultaneously, coffee bars are mushrooming across the country. More and more coffee drinkers are admitting their love for this beverage, which has become an awakening concoction for many youths and adults. According to a recent Harvard study, those who consume three–five cups of coffee a day may be less likely to die prematurely than their counterparts on the other side. This beverage has also been known to offer protection from Type-2 Diabetes, Parkinsons, and certain cancers. Though tea still remains a loved beverage amongst the Indian lot, coffee beans too have been doing wonders.
Scripting the story of a new entrant
Despite a high-growth phase in the coffee market, there is a void of new offerings. Sensing this lacking, three friends decided to join hands to present a concoction of freshly-made cold brew coffee. Ashwajeet, Co-Founder, Sleepy Owl, was more interested in honing his culinary skills as opposed to practising law. His cold-brewing impressed his friends, especially his college mate Arman Sood, the second co-founder, who encouraged Ashwajeet to take the idea forward. Ajai Thandi, the third co-founder, was then working with J.P. Morgan. But “when Ashwajeet called and told me about it (a new venture), I was immediately convinced.”
The two-year-old startup has come a long way since its inception. “Currently, we are present in over 30 modern stores like Foodhall and Le Marche,” says Thandi. Recently, the company managed to raise around $500,000 from DSG Consumer Partners, India’s leading early stage investment firm for consumer companies.
Then there is Matt Chitharanjan, Co-Founder, Blue Tokai, who ardently enjoys collecting different devices for brewing. After experimenting with homemade roasts, he decided to jump in and see if he could connect Indians to their own coffee farmers. His love for producers of these beans is clearly showcased on his t-shirt which reads: “We love Indian coffee farmers.”
Having named their brand after an ancient South Indian term for the tail of a peacock – Tokai – founders Chitharanjan and Namrata Asthana are brewing fresh beans which are offered at trendy coffee shops in the country. Initially, they thought their product would fill the cups of only NRIs, but to their amazement, it has connected well with a broad coffee-drinking crowd in Delhi too.
According to Chitharanjan’s estimation, an average Indian consumes 70 grams of coffee annually; in comparison, Scandinavians consume seven kilos. “India is never going to be a seven-kilo country,” he says, but expresses hope that more awareness among the masses about the country’s coffee belt and its gems can change things.
Another entrant from Coorg has been brewing mesmerising variations of the beverage. On its way to popularising coffee as a lifestyle drink, The Flying Squirrel has been expanding its foothold in the market. In doing so, it has chosen the road less taken: instead of showcasing its presence on supermarket shelves, it has gone online for sales, and the medium has been doing wonders for it. According to founder Ashish Dabreo, institutional sales have played a pivotal role in streamlining revenue, as offices, airport lounges, and hotels are seeing value in offering luxury beverages such as theirs to their clients and visitors as opposed to the currently available one-size-fits-all products. Going forward, they aim to rely on word of mouth to take their brand’s name forward.
These budding entrepreneurs are clearly showcasing a deliberate intent to portray coffee as the new black.
The Cup that Cheers
Indians have grown up with the perception that our nation is predominantly a tea-loving country. However, though it was an extremely close contest, NDTV Food’s survey revealed that coffee has managed to carve out a niche in the hearts of many, and has made us fall head over heels, becoming the most loved hot beverage in India. But it is yet to be seen if the trend catches on. It will also be interesting to see if these newly emerging brands can manage to sustain themselves in the market.