Recently, The SororiTea Sisters were given the opportunity to chat with Kaushal Dugar, the founder and CEO of Teabox. And we just couldn’t pass up the chance to chat #allthingstea!
Kaushal Dugar, Founder and CEO of Teabox
1) What made you decide to create Teabox and what was the thought process behind your new product TeaPac?
I was born in Siliguri, a town in the Darjeeling district in India. And if you’re living in SIliguri, it’s very likely that you are doing something with tea – it’s the biggest industry there. My father was in the business of tea garden supplies and equipment. And when I was young, I would accompany my father on his visits during school holidays. I loved it. The huge machines in the estate factories fascinated me. For a small child like me, it was big MAGIC – the way a small green leaf is transformed into such a delicious drink. After high school, I went on to win a scholarship to study Business at the Singapore Management University and moved there. Studying there and living in Singapore for eight years shaped my career. During my time there, I set up two companies, one in e-waste management, another in luxury limousine service. I also spent 4 years working in KPMG as a corporate financial analyst. At that time, the Indian economy was booming, and I decided to return back to India to explore my options here. I came back to Siliguri and decided to go work for my older brother who runs a tea export business. Working there showed me another side to the business from what I had seen with my father – I saw the infrastructure that was being used to take the teas from gardens to the consumer and was surprised at how dated it was. And in these challenges, I saw a great opportunity for change.
My experiences abroad helped me think like an outsider to the industry. This outsider thinking was important because it enabled me to wriggle free of the constricting assumptions of the industry insider. It also enabled me to import ideas and practices from other industries and cultures and apply them to every aspect of strategy – including product development, organization and marketing. These skill sets, in combination with my first hand experience with tea industry (given my family’s background), were the driving forces behind setting up Teabox.
We launched TeaPacs last year, the highest quality loose leaf tea in an on-the- go option without compromising flavor or freshness. We are the first company in the beverage market to use a natural nitrogen flush. This approach creates a non-reactive environment to protect tea from oxygen, light, heat and moisture – elements that compromise the integrity of tea, causing deterioration and loss of flavor.
Traditional tea bags are filled with broken tea leaves: packaging constrains the leaves, preventing them from reaching their flavor potential. TeaPacs feature a pyramid-shaped bag, allowing leaves to unfurl, resulting in tea steeped with full-bodied flavor. Coming from a tea family and spending my childhood amongst tea estates, I grew up drinking some of the world’s best teas – so I know how fresh tea is meant to taste. At Teabox, we want to ensure that every cup of tea consumed is the freshest in the world, but we know that not everyone has time to steep loose leaf. We created TeaPacs so that anyone can enjoy the world’s freshest tea, anywhere, anytime.
2) What teas do you personally enjoy?
I have my favorites in every type of tea there is. In whites, I love the taste of Margaret’s Hope Moonlight white tea; it tends to be extremely fragrant and heady and I look forward to it every spring. In greens, I have started inclining towards the selection we get from the Nilgiris, particularly the Twirl Green tea from the Glendale estate. It’s incredibly smooth and tipped with soft, green flavors. My regulars include the tippy black teas from Assam, which are the perfect breakfast accompaniments, and the flowery oolongs of Darjeeling, which are perfect for sipping on a balmy afternoon.
3) How do you decide which teas and tea varieties to offer with Teabox?
Tea estates send over their tea samples, which are then evaluated by our expert tea tasting team. Only the teas which match our stringent standards are selected to be listed on the website. We have also invested heavily in setting up a rigorous, quality checking environment which ensures that only the best quality leaves are selected and are stored in temperature and humidity controlled facilities. The orders which ship within 24 hours of order are packaged in opaque, vacuum packaging protecting them from sunlight, and the environment outside during the transit. Regardless of the location, buyers receive their tea packs within just 3-5 business days. The rest of the teas are stored in a cold storage environment – again India’s first cold storage of tea.
4) Has there ever been a tea that completely shocked you that didn’t go over well with the Teabox audience?
We’ve seen a few teas from non traditional area like Kangra, North-East India that weren’t popular like other teas we sell. Some of the these teas had complex flavour profiles because of the the smoke taint that comes during the firing of tea leaves.
5) What are your hope and dreams for Teabox?
I founded Teabox to not only bring consumers the freshest, most delicious teas from the origins of where it is grown, but also to instill that same sense of magic and wonder I felt when I was growing up. I want to build Teabox as the first global brand from India and precisely by 2020, Teabox Inc would be listed on a global stock exchange.
6) How long have you personally been enjoying tea?
My family has been involved in tea for the last 50 years – my father supplied tea estates with machinery and equipment, and my brother runs a tea export business. When I was a kid growing up in the tea garden and visiting estates with my father, I used to think the men working in the fields were magicians because of how they were able to transform the tea leaves. I picked up the liking for good teas quite early, since i had access to the best varieties.
7) With owning your own tea business, we have to ask. . . How much tea do you have in your own personal tea stash?
Every morning I enjoy either the tippy black teas from Assam or the flowery oolongs of Darjeeling, which are the perfect breakfast accompaniment. The aromas and tastes are things I’ve become accustomed to each morning and signal to my body that it’s time to start the day.
Tea is a different kind of experience than coffee. Tea is calming, cleansing and meditative. You can’t just grab it go, especially loose leaf tea. The steeping process is incredibly methodical and forces you to slow down and focus as you measure out the tea, let it steep and then add any accompanying ingredients (milk, honey, etc.). Making and enjoying a cup (or pot) of tea becomes a routine in and of itself, allowing you to take a moment to yourself, or creating a moment to share with a roommate or loved one before the day begins.
8) If there was one thought you could share with new tea drinkers- what would you tell them?
I’d recommend a first timer to get started with a subscription package, because honestly, tastes can be very subjective and the journey to discovering your favorite tea is far more exciting than just selecting one tea and trying it out.
When the customer answers the quiz, the Teabox subscription program uses meta-level preferences (not related to teas) to understand user tastes and generate recommendations on the options selected. This eliminates the chances of preconceived notions when it comes to selecting the teas. The choices, as selected by the users are funneled into the prediction engine which objectively breaks them down to interpret and match them with teas and their flavors.
This quiz helps sort out our new customers’ taste preferences and gives us a better sense of what flavor profiles and tea blends they will most enjoy. For example, people who prefer the flavor of dark chocolate over any other kind, are more likely to enjoy a high-fired summer flush black tea, and someone who prefers the flavor of the sweeter milk chocolate is sure to find a couple of favorites in the mellower spring black teas from Assam, which typically have soft, creamy notes of caramel, malt and honey.
***On a side note, CuppaGeek took this quiz personally and the recommendations were spot on to teas she is typically drawn too. Check out what teas Teabox recommends for you here!***
9) If you could give one piece of advice anyone thinking about starting their own tea business, what would it be?
Focus on pushing the envelope to deliver products and product experiences that are genuinely better than what’s available in the market. To do this, you’ll need to escalate innovation and elevate quality. The benefits can’t be just cosmetic. They need to deliver meaningful and genuine experience.Secondly, never underestimate your customers. Believe in their desire, interest, intelligence and capability in quest for something better.
10) What are your dreams and goals with your new endeavor with TeaPac?
We’re entering a new era of e-commerce. Where before it was solving for convenience, e- commerce is now replacing existing retailers entirely. Vertical integration allows companieslike Teabox to own the entire process, upsetting the traditional retail model. Products like TeaPacs give customers the flexibility to try different options and find out what they really love in a convenient way, which they can carry with them everywhere. TeaPac is one part of Teabox, but overall we’re a retail company that allows consumers to experience a variety of 200-300 teas sourced directly from the best tea estates from India and Nepal, and chosen for their specific taste preferences, all without having to visit a storefront.
11) In an industry where elite tea drinkers frown on tea bags, how is Teabox going to face this hurdle with products like TeaPac?
The leaves used in most bags are actually the dust and fannings from broken tea leaves. This is a huge compromise in quality from full leaf tea. Finely broken tea leaves have lost most of their essential taste and aroma. When steeped, they release more tannins than whole leaf tea, resulting in bitter astringent brews. The material, shape, and size of the tea bags in the market themselves are also important factors. Most tea bags constrain the tea leaves, keeping them from expanding to their full flavor and aroma potential. This is one reason many people didn’t prefer tea bags.
Tea leaves need room to expand for full-bodied flavor. This is the reason why tea sachets are not ideal for brewing loose leaf tea. Standard tea bag material is often low-flow, preventing the brew from diffusing beyond the inside of the bag. This was precisely our motivation to create ‘TeaPacs’ filled with fresh full leaf teas from our loose leaf collection.
Bottom line – Teabox’s nitrogen flushed vacuum packaged tea bags provide you with more flavor, aroma, and pleasure than the tiny leaf bits and stale tea dust in most mass-produced tea bags. Typical tea bags are produced on an industrial scale and may sit in a warehouse or on a shelf for a long time before you ever get them. These low-grade leaves are usually picked, processed, and packaged by special machines at our temperature controlled facility at Siliguri. It’s also extremely convenient to carry these tea bags around.
The Sisters want to thank Teabox and Kaushal Dugar for allowing us to chat and learn more about Teabox and their latest product, TeaPacs! To learn more about Teabox, click here.