From ramshackle tin-shed stalls everywhere to the houses with two swimming pools, you will hardly find a place that is not familiar with the steaming cup of goodness known as tea. Although preparations and preferences differ vastly as more and more brewing recipes are popping up, you can be sure that everything starts with the unmistakable tea leaves.
Growing tea in Bangladesh is no new phenomenon as large corporate groups are entering the scene to invest in tea plantations and to meet the demand of local consumers. Yet not all of them can boast of a fully organic approach to not only growing tea, but also ensuring a sustainable environment both for the land and the people. This is where local brand Kazi & Kazi Tea is distinct, and this approach is also the base for their global brand Teatulia. A play on the words tea and Tetulia, the northern tip of Bangladesh, Teatulia- upholds its origin as it operates from Denver, Colorado, USA.
Organic is no longer an unfamiliar term as we have crossed well into the second half of 2018. But for Kazi & Kazi (and Teatulia), which currently sources tea from the only organic tea garden in Bangladesh, the story began in 2000.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
A man of dreams and perseverance- Kazi Shahid Ahmed, one of the reputed business personalities in this country, had a vision of setting up a 100 percent organically produced tea in a flat grounded tea garden for the first time in Bangladesh. He chose the northern most part of Bangladesh, Tetulia, where only barren flat lands were available at that time. Watching the poverty of Panchagarh as well as the potential of the people and region, Kazi Shahid Ahmed believed that condition could be transformed with the magic of organic philosophy. After buying the land in Panchagarh, the company started preparing it organically by dumping cow dung. After two years, tea seeds were planted for the first time. From that point on, there was no looking back. With no use of chemical or artificial fertiliser and pesticide, the tradition to grow 100 percent organic tea in the garden continues. Thousands of tons of organic manure have been used every year to enrich the soil where only organic pesticide had been used to produce world class tea.
Dr Kazi Anis Ahmed, son of Kazi Shahid Ahmed and a director of Gemcon Group, had an idea of taking Bangladesh's finest organic tea into a global platform. To reach that particular target, there is one name that comes first and foremost - Linda Appel Lipsius.
Lipsius got involved with Teatulia through her husband, Adam, who was friends with Dr Anis Ahmed. Dr Anis, his brothers and Lipsius would often discuss marketing and brand positioning when they met socially in New York, London or Los Angeles.
When the tea garden that the Ahmeds had started was far enough along for export, Dr Anis and his younger brother Inam came to the U.S. to exhibit at the World Tea Expo. Encouraged by the response, they decided to focus on the U.S. market. Concurrently, Lipsius was in the process of selling Orange Glo (a natural cleaning product manufactured by Lipsius' family), so when they were looking for a market analysis, she offered her services.
In Lipsius' own words, “What started as 'helping out a friend' has turned into my life's work in the span of 10 years. As I learned more about what the Ahmed's had done – challenging an entire industry to do things better by improving thousands of lives in northern Bangladesh through regenerative, 100 percent organic agriculture and with fair and empowering treatment of their workforce – I realised that if I could tell that story to the American consumer, we could have a business.
Furthermore, the good work that had been done at the garden had to be communicated to the end user. We do that through innovative minimal waste, compostable packaging and bold marketing – online and on-location.”
Sitting with Asma ul Roxana, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Kazi & Kazi Tea, we get an exclusive insight into this ever immersive story.
Roxana picks up the story from 2010 when Dr Anis and his brother took their valuable output to a tea expo in the USA to get a feel of what the international market was like.
The brand itself currently has an offering of 30-40 varieties, available throughout the year. Roxana emphasises on their focus on improvement based on international demand as well as gradual change in local taste. Green tea, which was one of Kazi & Kazi tea's first introductions to the domestic market, is now a daily supplement for many health-conscious households. Since people are travelling more than ever, they too are picking up new tastes.
“I particularly like to experiment with the packaging. After all, tea is a great gift to have and share,” Roxana says. Both Kazi & Kazi Tea and Teatulia come in attractive packaging, with biodegradable outer containers and bags, to stand out from the crowd.
Ultimately, it is the betterment of the community that helps the brand. Initially, the barren land relied on cow dung to enrich the soil, requiring a lot of cows. Now that the land is fertile enough with a steady supply of organic fertiliser, the community is being encouraged to sell the additional milk. Panchagarh, known as a “Monga” area, has seen many changes and this particular tea estate certainly played a vital role.
The COO of KK Tea jovially mentions that soon, they may very well be able to start exporting to China, the very birth place of tea! This optimism is not all that farfetched as Teatulia, being a premium product, is sold in the finest retail and food service outlets in America – Whole Foods, Wegmans, Harvard, Yale, The Kitchen, Tokyo Joe's & Garbanzo. The brand has also been recognised for their leadership by Fortune/Food & Wine Magazine, Newsweek, Forbes and Specialty Food Association. Moreover, they continue to win awards for the quality of their tea and push the limits of responsible business practices with their recent Fair-Trade Certification, Rainforest Alliance Certification and 3rd round of B Corp Certification.
“We have our vision firmly in sight, and have not wavered from it. We are now trying to ensure that tea gets a firm position as a lifestyle product,” says Roxanna as she talks about what's in store for the local and the international brand. What started out as a local company, managed to ensure their tea as a premium product rather than a community, in a very short time. “You don't have to compromise quality if you have a vision,” she adds.
Needless to say, this local brand, with its international counterpart, has its sights set with a dedicated team to place Bangladesh on the map successfully as a premium tea producer.
Picking the best brew
Kazi & Kazi Tea (for the local market) along with Teatulia (for the international market) has a wider range of products in its portfolio to offer to the consumers.
The offered tea is available in two different formats- CTC and Orthodox grade. For the uninitiated, orthodox teas are whole leaf teas manufactured using the traditional process of making tea, whereas CTC teas are made through the Crush, Tear, and Curl (CTC) process of manufacturing which produces a granular leaf particle.
The CTC range includes both tea bags and loose tea, starting from Green Tea, Jasmine Green Tea, Green Lemongrass Tea, Tulsi Tea, Ginger Tea, Black Tea, and Bengal Breakfast Tea in tea bags, as well as First Flush Black Tea, and Pristine Black Tea in CTC loose form.
Kazi & Kazi Tea is also the pioneer in the production of orthodox tea in different ranges like Orthodox Green Tea and Orthodox Black Tea in Bangladesh. They are also producing specialised teas such as White Tea, Bai Mu Dan, Green Mint Tea, Peppermint Tea, Earl Grey and many more, which are being exported to different parts of the world under the Teatulia brand.
Kazi & Kazi also happens to be the first local company to produce Oolong Tea and promote it to local markets. They are also planning on launching White Tea to the local market by the end of this year.
Pick up these products from your nearest Meena Bazar or other super shop of choice. And if you happen to live on the other side of the Atlantic, do give Teatulia a try for a taste of home!
Tea garden titbits
Being inspired by the work of Japanese master farmer Masanobu Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution, the Ahmeds opted for low-intervention farming, and ensured that the tea garden can function on minimal irrigation.
The variety of indigenous plants throughout the tea garden helps to feed the plants and aerate the soil. Also, the plants have their specific usefulness- the neem trees double as shade providers as well as a natural pesticide, and are also used in the medicinal teas. As for the marketed herbal infusion teas, the additional ginger, peppermint, and lemongrass are cultivated in the tea estate.
Kazi & Kazi brand of teas are washed for the first time in your cup as you pour the hot water. In the tea garden, there is absolutely no use of any type of chemical sprays so that a tea drinker can get the best taste from the very first sip!
Photo courtesy: Kazi & Kazi Tea/Teatulia