Abby: So tell me a bit more about your background and your story. Why chai?
Vishal: Tea is important to me. As far back as I remember, growing up in India, our mornings started with tea. I was 5 years old and my favorite activity was to dip parle-g biscuits in the tea. I tried to time it just right so that the biscuits would not break and fall into the cup. Fast forward 30 years, my 5 year old son (below) does the exact same thing when I make tea every morning in Boston. I am not alone in this ritual. There are millions of households like mine where every day begins with a cup of tea or “Chai” as we call it in India. I was 10 when I was allowed to stand next to my mother in the kitchen and I loved to watch her make the spices for chai from scratch. At 13, I started making chai for my mother and have been making it ever since.
Rushil: Growing up, some of my favorite memories were of weekends that always started off with “tea time.” Sitting down at the table, smell of toast in the air, I prepared to fuel myself for a day full of running around and just being a kid. Some afternoons we would go to my grandparent’s house where other relatives would gather too. Chai was made and snacks were brought out. The tea was crucial to the conversations had during these afternoon gatherings. I didn’t gain this perspective until later in life, but tea was such an important part of my upbringing. It is a tradition representing family and conversation. I want to further and foster this tradition amongst people that see chai as just a drink. In my mind, it is misrepresented in the culture here as “chai latte” or “chai-tea” often sold overly sweet. You could say that I wanted to start this company because I think people deserve to have better chai. Part of that is having good ingredients. The fresher the ingredients, the better your recipe will turn out.
Why fair trade?
Abby: You both started this company together. Why was ensuring your tea was fair trade so important to you?
Rushil: When we started this company, we knew that we wanted to use black tea from India because that is where the best tea is grown. I had never considered the human implications of getting the best tea. It turned out to be too high. If we promoted a brand all about family, tradition, and conversation we could not source our leaves from places where people were deplorably treated. We want this company to do better by these people, these families that pick our tea leaves. At the very least, I want to be more connected with the people that helped shape a tea tradition that is so much more than just chai.
Vishal: While the romance of tea has not been lost on me over the years, looking deeper into my impact on the planet made me question my habits. I realized how unethical some of the practices were in the gardens where my leaves were being sourced. I was extremely unhappy to learn about tea slavery. Workers were paid less than 15 cents per hour and had to work with no toilets or health care options. This was the harsh reality behind a cup of tea that I enjoyed every morning. I didn’t want to give up my love for tea but I also wanted to change (even if it was for one worker) the circumstances created by my ritual. I started to research ethical tea gardens but there was so much noise in the market. Having grown up in India, I believe in only one mantra, “seeing is believing”. With that in mind, I researched extensively to determine where companies were sourcing their tea. Then, in order to see, I went to some of these gardens to see what was going on behind the scenes. We were finally able to find a source that was fair trade. Having spoken to the workers in these gardens I was satisfied with their working conditions. It was only logical to bring this tea to my friends and family in America. Why go through so much trouble? Simple: If you love something or someone, you do what it takes to give them the best possible outcome. For me, that holds true for my family, friends, and tea!