Of Tea and the Tea Stalls of Tamil Nadu

Earlier today I was having a glass of tea at home with the wife and some how the topic of tea powder came up. I had done my summer internship quite a few years back with the RPG group.  I was doing market research for the Spencer’s tea brand in Tamil Nadu. During those days, 50% of tea sales were made to the tea stalls of Tamil Nadu. You have a tea serving station every fifty steps in Tamil Nadu. Every bakery serves tea and then there are the small shops as well. I was going from town to town and seeking insights on how the tea vendors run their show.
Very interesting insights came by. Most tea vendors had their milk boiled and sweetened with sugar. These were housed in wide vats But many also kept aside a one jug of unsweetened milk hanging inside the vat. These were for those diabetics who needed their tea without sugar. Circa 2015 in Bangalore and none of the tea joints, including the Sagars and Darshinis can offer a sugarless cup of tea to their patrons!
The tea vendors used their bit on differentiation. They mixed tea leaves from different brands. For example, they will 1 part of 3 roses premium tea with 2 parts of a slightly non-premium brand. Some vendors even added small tea spoons of Bournvita to give their tea a distinct flavour. Not surprisingly, tea stalls retained their loyal customers.
I was always very cordially received by the vendors and bakeries. Everyone would give me a cup of tea and ask me how it tasted. In their minds, I was one from the ‘big’ company. God alone knows how many cups of tea I downed in those two months. Some of the bakeries offered samosas as well! All in all it was a rather good time for a young summer intern doing his MBA.
One of my asks was to find out what will be a good corporate ‘gift’ the enterprise can give  these vendors. Calendars, diaries and even glasses would not cut it. As I used to watch their regular activities, I noticed that the tea vendors had their ‘chotu’ who delivers four five small glasses of tea to the nearby shops. Typically these were sought after between 10:30  and 11:30 in the forenoon and anywhere from 2:30 to 5 pm in the evening. ‘Chotu’ always moved around with a glass holder mesh. He was quite the artist – not a single drop would fall on the floor as he made his way to his destinations. Some of them as far as five hundred meters. By the time the tea reached the patrons, it had lost some of its biting heat. This prompted me to ask the tea vendors as to why they would not use flasks.  Most of the vendors were forthcoming and rather welcoming of the idea. So, I added this question to my survey sheet and moved around further.
And so it was, that a thermos flask became the standard reccomendation as a value added corporate gift for the tea vendors. Unfortunately I was not around long enough to find out if that suggestion got actioned. And those were the late 1990’s. Most non-IT firms were yet to get e-mails. It’s been quite a few years since then. So much has happened from then to now. All of us have emails now. There was no notion of blogs then. Cell phones were few and far between, forget about smart phones. Now we are talking about driverless cars. And yet, tea has remained the same. If anything, the charm of the beverage has only soared several notches.
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