Chai tales from the hills

Hillcart Tales

Ambarish Ghosh, founder of the Kolkata-based tea blending startup Hillcart Tales, was part of a family running a successful tea exports business for 122 years. The startup bug bit him in 2017 when he decided to do something on his own by venturing into the value-added market for tea. That was the genesis of Hillcart tales, a company that sources and blends tea from across the world.

Ghosh, who started his career in manufacturing, pursued an MBA from Symbiosis Pune and had joined the family business in 2016, before setting up Hillcart Tales. 

“Coming from a business background, I was looking for the opportune moment. I wanted to learn something new and contribute to the family business,” Ghosh says.

The Indian tea industry is estimated to be worth roughly Rs 23,605 crore, with branded tea holding 55% share (close to around Rs 13,000 crore) and unbranded tea cornering the rest. The dip tea (tea bags) market is much lower and is valued in the range of Rs 350-400 crore. The green tea segment has witnessed double-digit growth, whereas the black tea segment saw single-digit growth.

Masters of blending

Hillcart Tales does not own any tea gardens; what it primarily does is source and blend tea. Ghosh believes that blending process is important, not only from the product perspective but also from a cultural point of view. 

“When it comes to tea, the quality of the products differs in terms of climatic conditions and topography of a region. The different regions we procure tea from has been playing a crucial part in the final product, and that’s been our strength for years,” he says.

Talking about the operations, Ghosh mentions that the tasting team checks the blends and it goes through multiple checks, before making its way to the market.

Luxury space 

Ghosh contends that there is a lot of potential in this space. “I want to bring a new category in the market. We did a lot of groundwork to understand the needs of the customer. We wanted our product to be experiential. This starts with the packaging, which is commissioned art by an artist. Moreover, in India, we are seeing a rapid growth in tea consumption.”

Hillcart Tales is also focussing on the $30 billion global gifting industry. “Gifting is a huge opportunity for us. Our packaging comes with a poster, which gets folded in the form of a beautiful flower,” mentions Ghosh. 

“We’ve got around 32 tea variants in our portfolio. We have also launched an exclusive Dessert Tisane. It is basically a post-meal drink. There’s hardly any tea in it; it’s all herbs or flowers. It gives the person the aroma of dessert, without adding calories,” he adds.

Presence 

Hillcart Tales is available in seven cities in India and also retails at 100 cafes, 70 hotels and on online platforms such as Amazon, Big Basket, and their own website.

The company reported sales of Rs 3 crore in its first year of operations and is looking at doubling it year-on-year. 

The company sources teas from across the world, including Rwanda, Taiwan and Germany.

Talking about his global aspirations, Ghosh mentions that they are already doing business in Canada, Japan and the USA, and want to expand further in the years to come.

The startup, which has the backing of its parent company worth Rs 150 crore, isn’t actively looking at raising funds but is looking at the right investors.

“We don’t want to dilute our thinking. While we operate in a start-up mindset, we have the backing of the parent company,” he adds.

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