On a spiritual sojourn to India in 2002 as part of a socio religious movement, BROOK EDDY became acquainted with Indian chai and soon came to love the drink. So deep did her fondness for the beverage develop that upon her return to America, she took to brewing her own chai, and encouraged by the subsequent “addiction” of her friends to the drink, in 2007, founded, Bhakti Chai, with the aim of offering the world a craft-brewed chai that was also steeped in social and environmental change.
Today, the B-Corporation*, which produces 35,000 gallons of chai per month, enjoys nationwide distribution across both ‘Natural’ and ‘Conventional’ retail chains, and is witnessing a growth of 27% per year on average.
Eddy talks to Devaki Bhooshan about Bhakti’s product line, the Boulder, Colorado-based company’s future plans and her longstanding association with India….
The word ‘Bhakti’, literally translates to ‘Devotional worship’ in Hindi. Tell us about your association with India.
I travelled to India in 2002 and was truly fascinated with a social justice movement based on the principle of Bhakti called Swadhyay, and wanted to learn more about it firsthand. As part of the Swadhyay Parivar (family), Indian families would invite me into their homes and share their experiences about how this movement had impacted them and their communities over a cup of homemade spicy chai.
On this journey, I fell in love with two things that ultimately came to life in the form of chai. The first was this idea that no matter what your station in life, you have a responsibility to contribute to the community and doing so will have a pervasive and lasting impact. Second, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this community of people and their incredibly flavourful chai.
“Bhakti has been using Fairtrade Organic tea from India since its inception in 2007. We work with numerous importers for all of our different tea products and currently import a proprietary masala spice blend from India, organic fresh ginger from Peru and Hawaii, spices from Guatemala, and other teas from South Africa and South America. We would love to partner with healthy beverage distributors for our new Bhakti Sparkling Tea line”
When I returned home from India, I was so enamoured with my experience that I began brewing my own chai. Standing over the pot of steaming chai and inhaling the layers of fragrant spices, I was suddenly swept back into the chaos, colours and vibrancy of India and my experiences there. To my surprise and delight, my homemade brew gained the quick attention (and even addiction) of my friends and neighbours. Shortly after, I decided to take the principles of Bhakti and build a company on this ideal. I quit my full time job and dove head-first into the process of bringing to market a craft-brewed chai that was steeped in social and environmental change.
Tell us about Bhakti’s product range. Where do you procure your ingredients from?
We currently sell Chai Concentrates, six different kinds of Iced Chais, which are preblended with fresh, organic soy or almond milk, as well as, a line of Artisan Dry Tea in tea bag form. We are currently developing a new line of Sparkling Tea beverages outside of the chai category.
Bhakti has been using Fairtrade Organic tea from India since its inception in 2007. We work with numerous importers for all of our different tea products. We currently import a proprietary masala spice blend from India, organic fresh ginger from Peru and Hawaii, spices from Guatemala, and other teas from South Africa and South America.
What is Bhakti’s USP?
Bhakti is the first ever nationally distributed microbrewed chai made with fresh organic ingredients. Its signature fresh pressed ginger and masala spices give it the extra ‘kick’ with which the Bhakti brand has become synonymous. All Bhakti products are made with organic non GMO ingredients that are also vegan, Fairtrade certified, gluten free, dairy free and entirely devoid of preservatives.
What is your reach in USA?
Ready-To-Drink Tea is still the foundation for tea sales in the US, representing more than half of the market in tea sales. Bhakti is sold nationwide in what we refer to as ‘Natural’ retailers like Whole Foods Market, Natural Grocers and Sprouts, as well as, more ‘Conventional’ grocery stores like Kroger, Safeway, Target and Costco. We also sell select products on our website via an e-commerce platform.
You started Bhakti with less than USD 200 (approx Rs 13,000) as capital. What is the company’s status in the current scenario?
Bhakti received loans and investments from angel investors in the first few years of business, which really helped us move along. In 2015, Bhakti Chai was chosen by the Colorado Impact Fund, a new venture capital fund, to be its first recipient of support. We used some of this funding to build our new manufacturing facility in Boulder, which now gives us four times the capacity of our previous brewery. Currently, we produce approximately 35,000 gallons of chai per month.
In 2015, we generated USD 6.4 mn (approx Rs 43 crore/EUR 5.76 mn) in revenue and grew the business 27 percent from 2014.
Tell us about Bhakti Chai’s ‘GITA Giving’ initiative.
GITA stands for ‘Give’, ‘Inspire’, and ‘Take Action’. Abiding by our guiding philosophy of ‘Devotion through Social Change’, in 2015, we decided to create a formal platform for giving called ‘GITA Giving’ to help bring about worldwide positive change.
In the last year, Bhakti has contributed over USD 65,000 (approx Rs 44 lac/EUR 58,262) to projects and organisations that support women and girls, sustainability and the environment, as well as, civic and community causes. Over the years, Bhakti has donated more than USD 300,000 (approx Rs 2 crore/ EUR 268,902) to organisations that are making a difference in the global community.
What are the future plans of the company? Can we expect to see Bhakti Chai in India soon?
We are evolving beyond the chai category and into other beverages, moving from Bhakti Chai to Bhakti. Our hope is to continue to be the leader in chai, but also to grow into a leader in the beverage industry overall, while remaining true to our roots and our passion for social and environmental change. My vision is that both Bhakti and our GITA Giving platform grow together— creating positive and impactful change in the world while providing delicious, fresh, India-inspired beverages!
We probably will not think of India for our chai products, as the country already has that covered! But we would love to partner with healthy beverage distributors for our new Bhakti Sparkling Tea line in the future.
*B-Corporation: For-profit company certified by B Lab, a global non profit organization
This Interview appeared in the April 2016 issue of Pure & Eco India