Up until now no tea producer or marketer or retailer has mentioned freshness in the same breath as tea. (And why would they; it’s never been in their interest to create that association.) Nor did it help that tea – made from dried tea leaves – does not lend itself easily to the idea of freshness.
Tea’s long journey from the gardens through the auction to the exporters’ warehouses, the importers’ storerooms, the wholesaler and retailer drives the idea of freshness further and further away, and marketers have found it to their advantage to talk as little as possible about it.
As a modern, tech-enabled tea company, our focus has been on consumer rather than producers. Being so close to the gardens, we know what a fresh cup of Darjeeling actually tastes like. So how could we ensure that our customers enjoyed and savoured what we did? What was needed to retain the teas’ freshness? How could we preserve flavours and aroma for as much of its shelf life as possible?
To begin with, we cut the supply chain short from a long drawn five-stage process to two. (The happy consequence of this was that we could offer a better price for a much better tea.)
And then we took on the four enemies of tea: moisture, light, heat and oxygen.
Moisture is one of the biggest ones to tackle – it robs tea of freshness and flavor; teas go rapidly stale in the presence of excess moisture. Our quality norms ensure that we never buy black or green tea at above 4% moisture. We maintain this moisture level from the point when we receive the tea all the way through cleaning, sorting, packing and shipping. To protect teas from moisture and also light, we have fashioned protective devices using special opaque bags with an aluminium layer.
Then came oxygen; oxidised tea leaves will make flat tea with no flavor or briskness or astringency. Vacuum packing is the way to combat it and that’s how our teas are stored and shipped.
Heat, tea’s biggest enemy, was the last challenge we addressed. Heat causes leaves to perspire and renders it tasteless. All the care that goes into producing tea comes to nought if it’s stored in a room that’s humid and hot. But that’s how most storerooms are. The obvious solution for tea is a cold storage facility where it could store teas below 0 deg C. And that’s what we set up in July, this year.
What’s significant is that Teabox is the first company in India to set up a cold storage facility for tea. We were even asked why we are going to such great lengths to store tea. Our teas are of the highest quality and we will go all out to ensure that it’s retained till it reaches the customer, ensuring that they receive nothing less than the best and freshest teas that will make for a delicious cup.
Our efforts are already paying off, as customers are able to find a discernible difference in flavor and aroma in our teas. They are able to recognize the freshness and quality of our teas.
This could well be the beginning of a new chapter for the Indian tea industry.