Founded in 2011 by hospitality and F&B experts Priti Sen Arora and Dhiraj Arora in Kolkata, Karma Kettle is a familiar name for all those who love artisanal teas.
With a motto to bring fresh gourmet teas straight from the tea gardens to consumers, these tea connoisseurs from Kolkata founded Karma Kettle that works closely with medium-scale tea estates, farmers, and local artisans. Abhishansa Mathur was in a brewing conversation with Priti Sen Arora and Dhiraj Arora, founders of Karma Kettle, exploring their journey of running an artisanal tea company specializing in over 100+ varieties, flavours, their challenges, and a lot more.
1. Where did it all begin for you? Please share the What, When, & How of starting your brand Karma Kettle?
It was in 2011 that we identified a growing demand amongst Indians for blended teas and tisanes. But, tea in India was still being traditionally marketed as Chai or CTC. Our journey started in 2015, in the hills of Darjeeling in eastern India, where the finest teas cultivated from grand estates. So, what inspired us to begin this journey was an incredibly simple yet astounding mission. It was to bring fresh gourmet teas straight from the tea gardens to the kettle and cup.
Today, we are an artisanal tea company specializing in over 100+ varieties and flavours and working towards sustainability. Our range of wellness teas, herbal tisanes, and single estate teas come straight from the garden to your teacup. This means you get to drink fresh teas! We also have a tea room at Ballygunge, Kolkata, that serves high tea and snacks.
2. Can you walk us through your journey so far? Any early challenges before Karma Kettle?
Dhiraj: So, both of us come from diverse backgrounds. I was born and raised in Kolkata but went on to pursue my education in the UK and Canada. It was there, that I was introduced to the concept of artisanal teas- the famous teahouses worldwide, Whittard’s of Chelsea/ Twinnings London/ Davids Tea in Canada were already pioneers in the field of gourmet tea, and I developed a love for appreciating fine teas.
So, on returning to India from Canada, after completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, in a family holiday in Darjeeling, we stumbled into an old dilapidated Tea Planter’s Bungalow offering panoramic views of the tea estates of Makaibari, Ambootia, and Castleton. It called out to us, and it was here that the idea for setting up a Boutique hotel specializing in tea tourism sparked. Having no knowledge of the hospitality industry, we used our business intuition and love for art, history, and food to convert this Bungalow to an award-winning Hotel- Cochrane Place.
Priti: I spent parts of my early childhood in South India, between Chennai and Bangalore. I finally came back to Kolkata to complete my higher education. Having graduated in Business Management from the University of London( Leeds college: London School of Economics), I applied for an international internship with Hyatt Hotels USA for a competitive 18-month internship in their flagship at Park Hyatt Beavercreek, CO property. It sparked my interest in the field of Hospitality, so I went on to work in London with the Conrad Hotel, Chelsea Harbour.
On one holiday in Calcutta, Dhiraj and I met. Dhiraj was deeply involved with promoting and developing The Cochrane Place, and the idea to set up two restaurants in Singapore was born. Dhiraj and I ( aged 28 and 26 years) set up Karma Kettle Rhapsody, in two coveted locations in Singapore- Dempsey Road and Cluny Court- putting our real-world hospitality experiences, and we successfully went on to run these restaurants for four years.
3. What’s in the name? Tell us how you source your raw materials for your products? How much thought goes behind packaging?
On returning back to India in 2011 from Singapore, we identified the need to introduce Indians to the concept of artisan/ small-batch teas. Teas in India were being traditionally marketed as Chai or CTC. There was an untapped market for whole leaf premium blended teas, which actually have a host of health benefits. So, we decided to aptly name our tea company- Karma Kettle.
Deeply rooted in our company’s philosophy is “Karma”, which translates to what goes around comes around. We believe that tea is a healthy beverage, and blending tea with the purest Botanics, we transform tea into a salubrious infusion that positively impacts your body, mind, and spirit. So, we nurture relationships with medium-scale tea estates, farmers, and local artisans to strive to build a sustainable future for Mother Earth. We believe packaging is an essential element in our marketing mix, and since 2020, we have taken on another challenging yet incredibly important mission: to embark on the path of sustainability in sourcing, production, and packaging teas. We have already transformed our packaging by slowly shifting to biodegradable pyramid tea bags and aim to replace plastic packaging in our tea boxes.
4. What are some challenges that you faced while running Karma Kettle?
The tea industry is a dynamic industry, with so many players, the Indian tea market is pretty price sensitive. When these two are coupled together, we need to educate people that quality tea is expensive. People still do not know how to brew loose leaf tea properly, an absolute essential to appreciate their real flavour. The pandemic was a game-changer. We experienced a hiatus in F&B sales and pivoted to third-party channels for more reach. We also noticed that the market went more sensitive to price, so we changed our pricing strategies accordingly.
5. What according to you makes Karma Kettle stand out amongst other brands? Have you or do you plan to diversify your brand?
We have over 100+ varieties and flavours of artisanal blends and a tea room in Kolkata. So, what makes us different from say, other tea players in the market, is our ability to innovate and adapt. Coming from the Hospitality industry- we understand the importance of ingredients, flavours, and packaging. We are amongst the first Indian companies to roll out whole leaf teas in pyramid tea bags, introduce cold brew teas and fruit-based iced teas in the market. We are able to adapt our packaging to make it more eco-sensitive and already in a transition to biodegradable pyramid teabags.
6. Any Tea Trends you foresee?
With wellness playing such an important part in our lives- a tea trend that’s here to stay is Wellness teas- think of Ashwagandha tea, Moringa tea, Green tea with tulsi, and ginger. Kombucha, a fermented tea, has exploded in the Indian market. We believe it’s a trend that’s here to stay for a while. Infusing tea into our food in the form of salad dressings, cocktails, and desserts is something that food influencers are exploring.
7. How are you using Social Media to promote your homegrown brand?
So, our social media strategy is majorly organic. We partner with relevant influencers and organize giveaways. We are ardent believers in sustainability. Thus, we relay that message through posts and reels on our social media channels, specifically Instagram and Facebook. Also, we partner with brands with similar values and discuss more eco-friendly and sustainable initiatives.
8. What is your 5-year plan for Karma Kettle?
We wish to have a trickle-down effect, from local to national. We have already started building our PAN-India retail presence through partnerships with gourmet stores like Foodhall and Nature’s Basket. We are also aiming to inaugurate flagship retail and tearooms in cities like Pondicherry, Goa, and Bangalore, as at these locations, people are more open to experimenting and consuming artisanal blends. Globally, we look forward to expanding to retail in USA, UK, and Singapore through online channels and network partners.
9. Can you share your business model with us?
So, we follow a B2B and B2C business model. We have worked with over 100 hotels and cafes like Accor, Fairmont, etc in the HORECA (Hotels, Restaurants, and Cafes) segment. In 2020, we entered the e-retail universe more aggressively. We partnered with Amazon, Flipkart, and Nykaa to increase our digital footprint.
10. One advice/suggestion you’d like to give aspiring entrepreneurs out there.
It is important to build a team that shares your vision – that gives you more than half of the strength. Also, be open to new opinions and suggestions. It’s always good to get fresh perspectives on old ways of working.
The founders suggest trying their best sellers. The first one is Istanbul, an authentic Turkish apple tea which is a refreshing hibiscus rose green tea. The other one is Green tea with Peach and Jasmine, a classic aromatic jasmine green tea with a fruity twist.