We Indians are tea lovers, and have produced tea varieties that have enchanted the world. And the latest entrant in this list is wild tea from the North East of India.
Manipur-based Forest Pick is an up and coming startup which specialises in wild tea. The family-run business was co-founded by Boilal Gangte and his sisters Aijulie, Jemshe, and Julie, in 2018.
As the name suggests, Forest Pick finds its tea leaves from forests rather than tea plantations. The unique tea has been growing in the mountainous forests of Manipur for centuries, but has been mostly used for personal consumption by the natives till now.
Boilal, an IIM-B alumnus and corporate veteran hailing from Manipur, figured that if this wild tea is commercialised successfully, it can improve the livelihoods of the local population too. The local economy is mostly driven by cultivation of ginger, paddy, etc. in the mountain slopes. “This practice is killing the mountains. Since the natives cannot afford fertilisers or chemicals, they chop down the hills to cover vast areas for cultivation,” Boilal tells us.
The wild tea plants – grown in clusters across Manipur’s mountains - can live for hundreds of years, while tea plants in plantations usually last for 30-40 years. Also, wild tea can be harvested twice a month for eight months in a year.
From about 40 villages in the mountainous area, around 600 households are involved in wild tea picking currently. Forest Pick buys fresh leaves from these villagers and does processing and packaging in house. “Currently we have five households involved in tea leaves picking. Their annual income has almost doubled. The difficult topography and lack of good roads are hurdles in scaling the business fast; but we are looking forward to scaling up our production capacity and buying all the produces from the local tea pickers,” says Boilal.According to him, wild tea is the most natural form of tea, as it is grown in mountain forests far from human-inhabitation and pollution, with no fertilisers.
Forest Pick currently has eight varieties of tea, and is soon launching five more varieties. Currently active via Amazon India and its own website, Forest Pick is not keen on offline business as it is too expensive and limits the potential customer base. But they do B2B business with tea sellers from the US, Canada, and a few European countries.
With the global tea market estimated to be worth $21.3 billion by 2024, Forest Pick is looking at a bright future.