Déjà brew: The Kettlery team on growing a brand and how to make a great cup of tea
Do you love a cup of cutting chai, complete with a swirl of cardamom and lashings of ginger, on a rainy day? Or would you prefer the full bodied, amber liquor of Assam tea? Whatever your tea preferences may be, there will always be a flavour to suit you as there are over 3,000 types of tea in the market today. Whether it is the fruity punch of Oolong tea or the gentle, floral of notes of Chamomile or the dizzying array of tisanes on offer, there are teas that can brighten your day, energise your body, soothe your heart and lull you to slumber.
So, what does The Kettlery have to offer? Launched by Sandeep Kotecha and his wife, Praneta Mehta The Kettlery was built on a passion for high-quality tea. They offer their customers an exclusive, hand-picked selection of premium loose-leaf teas, tisanes (herbal teas), tea-infused beverages, tea brewing accessories, and special foods to elevate the tea drinking experience to a gourmet affair. The Kettlery has outlets in Ahmedabad and Mumbai and will soon open Bengaluru, Hyderabad Chennai and other cities across the country.
In an exclusive interaction with YS Weekender, Sandeep talks about his love for the beverage, how they launched their business and why tea is so good for you….
YS Weekender: Can you tell us about the concept of The Kettlery and how it was launched?
Sandeep Kotecha: The Kettlery was launched with a vision to create a tea lifestyle brand out of India. The brand focuses on offering the finest quality tea blends, tea accessories, gourmet food and culinary experiences, through a combination of food and beverage and retail boutique formats.
YSW: How did you get interested in tea? Where were you working earlier?
SK: I used to work for Teavana in the US which was acquired by Starbucks, which was my first experience in the specialty tea retail industry in the Western markets. Although we were not in the food and beverage services at that time, it got me interested in the exotic world of full-leaf teas. Prior to this experience, I had worked for several years in fashion retail and Disney merchandising in Orlando, Florida.
YSW: Can you tell us about the first Tea Bar you launched?
The Kettlery Tea Bar
SK: We launched our first tea bar in Ahmedabad. It was special because we were the first tea brand to introduce the city to the full-leaf tea lifestyle. It was also special in many other ways as we had left a comfortable, corporate life in the US to pursue our dream of owning a business in India.
YSW: What makes tea, as a beverage, so special?
SK: Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. This makes it a critical part of daily lives of millions of people around the world. Tea is also associated with a rich history across continents and has enjoyed a cult status at social gatherings for hundreds of years. This, combined with the health benefits of tea, make it an irreplaceable drink with an ever-growing health conscious population.
YSW: What are kinds of tea that are best for health?
SK: The six basic types of known teas are white, green, black, yellow, oolong, and puerh. All loose-leaf teas are rich in antioxidants and have multiple health benefits including improving cardiovascular health, boost immunity and many others.
Herbal infusions or tisanes have grown popular over the last decades due to their caffeine free content and many other health benefits.
YSW: What are luxury teas and what makes them so special?
SK: Luxury teas are blended with exotic ingredients and flavors that are rare and delicious. The Kettlery specialises in curation of luxury blends that are delicious and complex. A few of the luxury teas from our collection are Secrets of the East, Thandai Oolong, Sindbad Baklava, Sparkling Oolong, Pineapple Sparkling Wine and many more.
YSW: What kinds of food do you offer?
SK: The Kettlery operates in two different business formats. The retail format focuses on selling teas, tea accessories, tea gifts, gourmet foods like gourmet honey, chocolates, cookies, coated and flavoured nuts and other snacks.
The F&B format consists of restaurant and café formats that serve freshly made healthy vegetarian food paired with premium loose-leaf teas and tea-based beverages.
YSW: How does you handle competition as there are many tea shops/chains across the country now?
SK: Most existing tea chains are focused on either modern retail or regular tea cafes with limited or no focus on innovation. The Kettlery has developed a flexible and hybrid business model in the food and beverage/retail format with a heavy focus on product and service delivery. Secondly, we invest heavily in curating specialised products and packaging. We own several design trademarks for most of our gift sets.
YSW: How do you make a good cup of masala tea?
Masala Tea is full of interesting spices
SK: Masala Chai has and will always enjoy a cult status in India because of its cultural bond. A good cup of Masala Chai is very personal and depends on individual preferences.
For me, a good cup of Masala Chai is made as follows:
1) Boil water
2) Add the masala tea and spices of your choice and let it boil for 2 minutes
3) Add milk and sugar. The proportion of milk should be 30% to that of water.
4) Bring it to boil, filter and enjoy!
YSW: Any advice on making good tea?
SK: Good tea should have the right strength, body and flavour. All three can be achieved with the right combination of time, quantity and temperature.
What most people don’t know is that tea is a recipe-driven beverage, just like your baked goods or food. Most people don’t measure the quantity of tea, water or milk while making their tea and also don’t have the right accessories to make good tea. They also don’t understand the difference between boiled tea and brewed tea.
If people start considering these parameters while making tea, they can enjoy this remarkable beverage in a much better fashion.
YSW: What are some life lessons you have learnt from your entrepreneurship journey?
SK: I have realized that it is critical to differentiate between problems and regrets. People make their problems a reason of regret or unhappiness. Problems always have a solution and are always an opportunity, if you have the right attitude towards them.
If you keep pursuing your passion, the universe will notice it eventually. Money is a great motivator, but people build businesses.
YSW: Which are the best-known teas in the world?
Darjeeling tea is known for its unique flavour
SK: Every tea growing region has its own specialty. For example, Darjeeling in India is world renowned for its muscatel flavour. Taiwan is known for its smoky oolongs, China for its ageing Pu'er teas, Japan for its vegetal green teas. We would like to introduce more teas from Korea and Japan in our collection.
YSW: How popular is tea in India when coffee is an equally popular drink?
Green tea is full of anti-oxidants
SK: Coffee is perceived as equally popular because of the advent of coffee bars in the last decade. Indians in general have a natural palate for tea than coffee because of its mildness as compared to the bitter taste of coffee.
We believe that tea can be a much more popular beverage if it is offered with the right combination of ambience, service and experience. Tea is already consumed in mammoth proportions in India in comparison to coffee. However, since it is marketed as a poor man’s drink so far, it is perceived otherwise.
YSW: What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
SK: I enjoy myself the most when I visit my parents near Diu as I grew up near a beach town. We love to visit the beaches, eat local food, listen to my favorite music, visit local temples and places situated in the Gir forest.
YSW: What are your plans for the future?
SK: We plan to build India’s finest specialty tea brand with presence in multiple domestic and international markets. I want to build a company that can be an inspiration for next generation of entrepreneurs in India and NRIs who want to return home and start their own businesses. On the personal front, I want to be fit, learn a foreign language, have a beach house, learn and play golf with my friends.