On the up · 7 June 2017

Tuk Tuk Chai: Authentic Indian street tea being snapped up by Harvey Nichols

Rupesh and Alexandra Thomas met as students in London in 2002
Rupesh and Alexandra Thomas met as students in London in 2002

For two years, husband and wife team Rupesh and Alexandra Thomas slaved away in their Wimbledon kitchen, blending spices, different chais and ingredients to create perfect, ready-to-drink Indian street tea.

A staple in his family throughout his childhood, Rupesh introduced Alexandra to his mother’s authentic, home-brewed chai after the couple met as students in London in 2002, and Paris-born Alexandra became hooked straight away.

She said: “I loved the fusion of sweet hot tea and warm spices. I became a little obsessed with the traditional chaiwallahs of India, and the amazing tastes of traditional Indian street tea, which changes from region to region, town to town and even from family to family.”

Now aged 39 and 37 respectively, the duo have invested more than £100,000 of savings, accumulated over ten years, into their small business Tuk Tuk Chai, and they’re beginning to be rewarded for their efforts.

This year has already seen British department store Harvey Nichols launch Tuk Tuk Chai’s three-tea range in five of its flagship UK stores, and the founders are currently working with sellers in the Middle East to begin exporting. Business Advice caught up with Rupesh and Alexandra to hear about their plans for the future.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

We are Tuk Tuk Chai, the first and only ready-to-drink chai, or Indian street tea, available on UK supermarket shelves. We deliver the most authentic bottle of chai this side of Delhi!

ginger-with-spices(2) How long have you been around for?

We launched at the International Food and Drinks Exhibition (IFE) in March 2017, after over two years of countless batches and trials to perfect our chai.

(3) How do you make money?

We make money exclusively from the sales of Tuk Tuk Chai, our Indian street tea.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

Chai has become very popular over the last few years, so many brands and coffee shops have jumped on the bandwagon trying to emulate chai or what they have called chai latte.

Until Tuk Tuk Chai was launched, chai came in the form of tea bags, overly sweet powders, extracts or syrups. None tasted like a traditional cup of Indian
street tea.

Indeed, a real cup of chai has to be brewed. Tuk Tuk Chai follows the traditional recipes and brewing techniques used in India to brew chai.

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

It took us over teo years to create a cup of chai that was 100 per cent authentic and tasted exactly like the chai made by the chaiwallahs in India. We did not
launch until we achieved absolute perfection.

Another key element was the branding. Working with individuals and our branding agency Bloom, that shared the same vision and passion, was key to us.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

The IFE was a huge success for Tuk Tuk Chai, with people queuing to try our chai, and interest from all over the world. We created a real buzz that got people talking about Tuk Tuk Chai. This led into us launching at Harvey Nichols a month later and exporting to UAE and Kuwait after only two months.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

Producing the perfect cup of chai to large scales was a huge challenge.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

We will be running a fast growing company with a presence in North America, Australia, Middle East, Far East, Europe and the UK. We want to be the coolest brand to be seen and associated with, and be market leaders in what we do best – making ready-to-drink chai. We want to take chai from the streets of India to the hotspots of London, and into the high rises of Manhattan and Tokyo and further afield.

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Tuk Tuk

You need to be passionate about your product, have a clear vision and never give up.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

Richard Branson, because he was so entrepreneurial from such a young age and also took a lot of risks to get to where he is now. We love the way he has diversified and created a brand that people love and trust.

In each industry, he has made his mark and also set a standard that people now follow. The “fun to work” culture he created decades ago has defined all industry as such and demonstrated that a corporate culture doesn’t need to be so rigid. He brought fun and creativity into work by taking things a bit less seriously, but still managed to achieve better results than the traditional way of doing business.

Also, Dhirubhai Ambani. He was an individual with a very basic education who went on to create one of the biggest conglomerates in the world, in an India that was still trying to find its feet after independence.

His sheer will and mentality to take risks is the only reason why he could create such a big company from scratch. Such was the people’s trust in him, his company and his entrepreneurial skills, that when he took his business public for the first time the shares were oversubscribed. Every member of the public wanted to be a part of his success, and every graduate wanted to work in his firm.

Both Warren Buffet and Bill Gates still work tirelessly to make the society and world a better place, despite the fortunes they have made, and it’s clear they aren’t doing it for adulation and accolades.

Meet the entrepreneurial duo who won over the fearsome Deborah Meaden

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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