Chai and self-realisation: Ami Bhansali’s Chai Diaries stirs up connect over a cuppaArathi Menon
Chai Diaries, established in California in 2013, offers consumers “comfort in a cup”, with 51 blends of premium, speciality teas.
It’s not every day that you hear someone philosophise about, well, chai! When Ami Bhansali, CEO, and founder of Chai Diaries does that, and convincingly, you can actually draw parallels with tea drinking and “self-realisation”.
Yes, it sounds absurd but Ami is certain that the minutes leading up to brewing your tea, after dropping the tea in a pot of boiling water, are precious moments, “where you have paused to breathe in and reconnect with yourself”.
Depending on your relationship with tea, you may laugh it off as psychobabble, or nod your head in agreement but Ami’s conviction that a good cup of tea can elevate your senses has resulted in Chai Diaries - a unique brand of tea that boasts of 51 blends of speciality teas.
More than just a cup of tea, Chai Diaries, established in California, the US, in 2013 offers consumers “comfort in a cup”. The variety of hand-blended, premium teas under the Chai Diaries umbrella include blends like Ayurveda, Black, Blooming, Instant Chai, Green, Oolongs, Pu’erh and White teas. Distributed in the US and India, Chai Diaries blends are appreciated for their aromas, pleasant taste and smoothness of flavour.
Let’s hear from creator Ami how it was to conceive this premium brand and deliver it to consumer satisfaction.
HerStory: What inspired you to come up with Chai Diaries? You mention it as one of your first “awakenings” in India. Could you elaborate?
Ami Bhansal: Growing up, I remember spending our summer holidays at our family’s tea plantations in the Nilgiris in south India. Twenty-seven years later, in Central Park, New York, I found myself reflecting on memories of the tall pines touching the clouds, the smell of eucalyptus trees, and the unending tea bushes lining up the mountains. These memories inspired Chai Diaries.
HS: You’ve drawn parallels between chai drinking and self-realisation. How’s that possible?
AB: Chai Diaries is comfort in a cup! Our teas aim to create an indulgent experience of simplicity. It gives you those precious moments to recharge and reconnect with yourself. While making a cup of chai, time literally stands still. You need to boil the water, which can never be rushed; you drop in the tea, and you allow it to seep - the minutes leading up to your favourite brew are your precious moments, where you have paused to reconnect with yourself.
It’s about taking these moments of silent meditation, no matter where you are. Like writing in your personal diary, unravelling your truth; these moments give you comfort in reconnecting with yourself. That is why I feel making a cup of chai is akin to walking the path towards self-realisation!
HS: What is the brand about? How are the teas different from other popular brands?
AB: Chai Diaries has 51 blends of specialty teas, and we are constantly growing. We specialise in loose-leaf teas, biodegradable teabags and instant chai premixes. Our blends are all natural, with no added sugars or artificial ingredients. We use organic ingredients wherever possible. Our teas are sourced directly from tea gardens and are hand blended.
Belonging to the third generation of tea growers and manufacturers, I would like to believe that tea is literally in our blood!
Our latest addition is "The Mommy and Me", inspired by motherhood. Chai Diaries launched three no-caffeine flavours with ingredients that promote wellness in both mothers and children. The launch of this line opens up opportunities for children’s birthday parties, giveaways, baby showers, and other gifting options.
HS: Could you elaborate the process of creating a new tea - from conceptualisation to realisation?
AB: I explored different tea estates and did a series of tea tastings of speciality teas. I researched on how tea is manufactured and processed and how to blend specialty teas. Specialty teas are a fairly newer market in India, and fetch a premium price as it requires the art of blending.
Different fruits and flowers are blended with teas to deliver a beverage that is not only refreshing in taste but also has health and wellness benefits for the drinker.
HS: This is a huge market with many international players. How do you plan to stand out and be identified?
AB: Specialty tea is growing. The tea world is not restricted anymore to masala chai and Earl Grey! With wellness being the keyword, tea drinking is appreciated for its simple ingredients and innumerable health benefits.
Our target audience is everyone! Anyone looking for a healthier beverage option is our audience. Chai Diaries’ range of teas includes the conventional blends along with wellness herbal tisanes and even Ayurvedic teas.
The brand is marketed to people who appreciate finer things in life. There is nothing like sharing what you love, and we have a great following of people who gift our teas! There is a blend of tea for every mood and time of the day.
We hold tea tasting demos in stores and at our trade shows to educate customers on different tea blends, ingredients and benefits with tea drinking.
HS: Why did you move to the US to start Chai Diaries?
AB: Chai Diaries being launched in the US was more organic than a planned approach. I was at a crossroads in my life. Having worked in public relations and branding in Mumbai, running my own firm was getting hectic.
I decided to pursue a few courses in NYU-SCPS, in Manhattan. One of the courses needed us to present a business idea and my team worked on introducing a chai cart concept in New York City.
That hasn’t worked out as yet, but it definitely got me thinking. From there it has been all about luck, sleepless nights and cross-world travel schedules. Pursuing this, I moved to New York and tried introducing people to specialty teas. Juggling between my PR company and interning at a café there, I got the opportunity to understand the market for premium teas.
HS: Tell us a bit about yourself
AB: Growing up in Mumbai, we were lucky to be exposed to many different cultural experiences. I enjoy travel, discovering new things, yoga, and wellness concepts. Being a Jain, our diet is restricted and this helped me pay more attention to clean eating. This concept and the concept of “discovering oneself” is the philosophy behind Chai Diaries.
HS: You’ve travelled the world. Could you share some anecdotes from these travels vis-a-vis Chai Diaries?
AB: The biggest life experience I can credit to Chai Diaries is teaching me independence. It gave me the courage to pursue my passion and the perseverance to start ground up. All these values are what Chai Diaries is all about…laying the foundation to overcome your fears and meeting your real self!
I have had the opportunity to travel to many different cities across India, Europe, and America - to learn more about tea and sell our specialty line of teas. I had to learn how to set up trade show booths and hear the word “no” from retailers.
There is still a long way to go and I’m excited for the adventures ahead.