It’s International Tea Day today and we thought it was a good time to do some reflection. There are things about the tea industry that are changing, but so imperceptibly that one may not really notice it…But change has begun, and change for the better. Where once the industry was hanging on to an older way of working, today it’s seeing young people choosing to enter it, bring in their energy and enthusiasm, and most significantly, their desire for a better way of doing things.

We are proud to feature four young people who have chosen to work in tea, and are committed to its progress.

Lasi Tamang, Factory Assistant, Jungpana Tea Estate, Darjeeling

Lasi Tamang, Factory Assistant, Jungpana Tea Estate, Darjeeling

Lasi Tamang is a celebrity of sorts in Darjeeling’s tea world, having cracked the glass ceiling to become Factory Assistant at Jungpana tea estate. Where women have mostly entered the industry as pluckers, Lasi chose to pursue another path. She got a college degree and supplemented it with a management course.

As a Darjeeling local, Lasi says she was curious about why the rest of the world was fussing over their tea. Jungpana is among the best-known of Darjeeling’s estates and Lasi found her home here. Still in her early 20s, Lasi says she can’t think of any other job she’d rather be doing. “Have you seen our estate? Why would you want to work elsewhere,” she says, with obvious pride. But surely a beautiful place can’t be reason enough to love your job, we persist. “My tea is known as the best in the world, and that drives me every single day,” she states.

Married to an Army-man, Lasi Tamang is really the 21st century face of India’s tea industry.

Mrityunjay Jalan, Director, Chota Tingrai Tea Estate

Mrityunjay Jalan, Director, Chota Tingrai Tea Estate

I’d never have guessed Mrityunjay’s age if he hadn’t told me it was 23! He spoke with a maturity and commitment that’s impressive for someone so young. As the new Director of Chota Tingrai, Mrityunjay’s entry into the industry is seen as a breath of fresh air by many. “I was lucky to have some advantages. My family has been in the tea industry,” he says, shrugging off any praise. After a Bachelor’s in Business Management from Singapore, he spent a year there as an analytical consultant. It gave him the trigger he needed for his future plans. “I have always been fascinated by tea,” he says. Earlier this year, Mrityunjay returned with new ideas for marketing his estate’s teas. The Jalans’ estate in Upper Assam lies in Tinsukia District and Mrityunjay has moved bag and baggage there.

“I am an outdoors person,” he responds, to my query on how he settled into his new life. “I can’t wear a tie and shirt to work.” And being on the estate allows him just that. Unafraid to get his hands dirty, Mrityunjay has plunged headlong into his role. There are two things he’s proud to be doing, both of which have long-term benefits to the industry and his own business. One, to market black teas for a domestic market. “My personal view is that there’s a lot to develop in India. We need to sell the right product. Traditional tea companies have always exported the best teas and the leftovers were dumped here. It’s time to offer Indians a quality product.”

The second, and the one that he’s extremely excited about, is his green tea project. In 1978, Mrityunjay’s father set up a green tea unit but it shut down when he stepped out of the industry. With the buzz around green tea rising, Mrityunjay has chosen to revive it. But with a difference. “In India, what you get as green tea is not really green tea. It’s a farce. It’s not produced the right way.” He travelled to Japan (“they are pioneers in the green tea business”), chose partners to collaborate with, and has already begun production. His days presently are spent in the factory as he readies to launch authentic green teas by April 2016.

In Assam, Mrityunjay’s mornings begin as early as 2 or 3. From visiting the estates, being on the fields, and in the factory all day. So far east of the rest of the country, the sun sets early in these parts. And then, it’s time for Mrityunjay to catch up on emails and his marketing plans.

“People who have been in the industry don’t see the need for change. They may not agree with my views. But it’s a two way process. I have a lot to learn from them and they can find the energy and enthusiasm that young people bring, refreshing and challenging.”

While he’s not unfamiliar with the workings of an old industry, Mrityunjay is eager to spur change. “Our workers are our main assets. The hierarchy and bureaucracy within the system doesn’t work anymore. We need to change the way estates are run. It will take time but I’d like to see it happen.”

Bhaskar Hazarika, Director, L K Tea Company

Bhaskar Hazarika, Director, L K Tea Company 

When Bhaskar Hazarika left for the US, he wasn’t thinking of returning to Assam and working with his father in the family business. “It was always assumed that my younger brother would take over that mantle,” he says. Born in Assam to a father who worked as Assistant Manager at Halmari tea estate, Bhaskar, like most Assamese, chose to follow a profession rather than business. And this despite his father choosing to start a business. Back then, his father and a few like him chose to enter the business world by starting tea nurseries and buying land for small tea cultivation.

Of course, working in the semi-conductor industry in California’s Silicon Valley left Bhaskar sufficiently distanced from Assam’s tea world.

In 2009, his father asked him to return and Bhaskar was tempted. News of economic reforms in Indian industries were reaching him and ‘India Shining’ was the buzzword. And so he returned. But to his absolute disappointment, no reforms had touched the tea industry. He wanted to start a factory but getting a manufacturing license took four years. “My files would keep disappearing,” he says. Because his family estates could not produce sufficient tea leaves, Bhaskar began to acquire sick and bad tea estates to revive them. Planting took place day and night, while Bhaskar continued to visit the government offices to get his paperwork sorted.

It has been an enormous lesson in patience but for 35-year old Bhaskar, it’s a responsibility he has accepted to shoulder. “In 2009, my teas were not very good. This year our tea, ‘Hookhmol’ was in the top 2-3%.”

Bhaskar lives in Diksam village in Dibrugarh district, with his mother, wife and month-old daughter. The nearest town is 17kms away. Working six days a week, two days each spent in the factory, on the estates and in meeting brokers and traders, Bhaskar’s days are full.

“I look forward to changing the way tea estates are run, he says. There are 20 lakh people dependent on the tea industry. We need to change the way things are run.”

Like Mrityunjay, Bhaskar too is looking inwards at the domestic market. “We need to sell tea as a product, not a commodity, he says. In India, we need to create a culture for tea. And new products including tea accessories to interest the younger generation.”

Kaushal Dugar, Founder, Teabox

Kaushal Dugar, Founder, Teabox

And there’s Teabox’s own founder, 32-year old Kaushal Dugar. Also to the industry born, Kaushal Dugar returned to Siliguri with a degree in Business Management and some industry and startup experience. Tea was a familiar world and both his father and older brother had started their own businesses in tea – his father selling tea machinery, and his brother with an export business. Kaushal started working for his brother, who taught him how the industry worked.

The tea gardens were familiar places for Kaushal, who had spent many holidays visiting them with his father. But now he viewed them as an adult, as one who saw and enjoyed modern efficiency and the conveniences that IT had enabled. He wanted to apply his modern ideas to the traditional supply chain, and that didn’t find any takers.

With wholehearted support from his older brother, Kaushal began Darjeeling TeaXpress to sell Darjeeling teas online. When that met with positive response, Kaushal renamed the company Teabox and expanded his offerings to teas from across India and Nepal. His supply chain innovations have brought much appreciation from both the producers, who can now sell their teas a product, and consumers who can now access the freshest teas no matter where they are.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Morris Azusa Orchard Reply

    Great reading the write up of these young Tea enthusiasts.Yes The Tea Industry needs a up lift..not only The Tea but the people working day n night for it..I make Tea at Jun Chiyabari Nepal..have worked in Assam Dooars …Darjeeling. .but Here in Nepal have a free hand in making Artisan Teas..Most Teas made by me reflect the Passion n Time take to hand craft these teas..Hope some day have a chance to interact more..Till then Cheers happy Tea drinkers.

  2. Wonderful to see such competence entering the Indian tea industry. It is significant that each of these young entrants recognizes that Indian tea industry management methods must change – I would only add – change fast or die.

  3. and I assure you Nigel that it will never happen except for a little overdue correction…this industry will NEVER die..young India will take care of it…

  4. Raghavendra Bhat Reply

    The cost of wholeleaf teas has to be within the reach of an Indian connoisseur, this can be achieved only through aggressive cost control and supply chain management. Only through the widespread use of IT in these two crucial areas can the Indian tea industry plug runaway cost escalations. Secure and instant communications is the key driving force behind IT deployment across the tea industry. A well articulated write-up on the emerging, forward looking industry driven by the sheer love of tea by a mass of caffeine loving humans!

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