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Cardboard flask creates storm in tea sales in major cities

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NEW DELHI: The online chai ordering business has become hot, thanks to a cardboard jar that retains simple heat but changes the game and has allowed restaurants to deliver fresh beer to consumers across cities.

Business has flourished. Chai Point, a chain of coffees that focuses on tea-based drinks, has witnessed its tea delivery business every year. Similarly, a quarter of Chaayos’ business currently comes from tea delivery, which is growing to more than 50% each year. Both Chai Point and Chaayos began delivering tea in 2014.

“We started out as a physical retail chain, but that humble cardboard flask simply digitized our business,” Amuleek Singh, co-founder and CEO of Chai Point, told TOI Amuleek Singh.

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For most office workers in India, drinking quality hot tea has generally meant leaving the office to the nearest chai store or walking to a tea vending machine. Options were limited. Both Chai Point and Chaayos now offer a larger menu for the demanding tea drinker: shahi chai, pahadi chai, aam-papad chai, ginger chai, jaggery tea, sulemani chai and much more.

Singh, who claims that Chai Point is the first company in India to bring the concept of disposable flask, had the idea of getting one designed when he saw consumers enter their outlets with jars to bring freshly made tea with them.

“At first, we tried to keep traditional bottles in our outlets to offer tea to consumers and offices. But picking them up and cleaning them became too cumbersome. So we contacted the global manufacturers of the cardboard flask,” said Singh, who had seen Dunkin Donuts deliver coffee in a similar way, during his days at Harvard Business School.

The import cost of $5 (approx. Rs 350) of a flask, however, was a deterrent and Chai Point decided to design one here. The company took two years, including test runs, to launch the final product. The Make-in-India flask costs around 30 rs, which reduces the cost of production for an imported faction.

“The flask in which we deliver tea is basically a cardboard box with several layers of polymers. It is based on the air trapped between the layers for insulation,” said Nitin Saluja, founder and CEO of Chaayos, which operates about 75 cafes in several cities.

Tests conducted by the Chaayos R&D team revealed that chai poured into the flask at 90 degrees Celsius remained warm for about 90 minutes. “The temperature drops to around 70-75 degrees within that time. By comparison, the hot water flowing from our geysers at home usually does at 50 degrees,” said Saljua, the 36-year-old graduate of IIT Bombay.

Tea peak orders between 3pm and 7pm and 9.30am and 12pm with white collar workers between the ages of 24 and mid to 30 s a key target group. Demand, however, has also begun to spread at weekends, demonstrating that consumers are also ordering tea from their homes.

“It’s hard to get freshly made and hygienic tea near our office, so I tried to order online for the first time. I was surprised to see the clean flask in which the tea was delivered. These days, my colleagues and I order a large jar almost every day,” said Ankita Mullick, a senior executive at a multinational bank in the capital.

30-year-old media executive Sunil Patnaik has been sduced by the wide variety of teas ranging from spicy sulaimani tea to Kashmir’s kahwa available online. “For me, tea is more of an occasion than a daily necessity. And I can’t even think about making these exotic flavors at home. So, whenever I feel like trying a new flavor, I place an order online over the weekend. The fact that the tea comes to me hot and I can consume it immediately without overheating is very convenient,” Patnaik said.

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