Raghav Verma, co-founder of Chaayos, talks about what goes behind creating a perfect cup of tea, the innovations to reach the customer, the challenges facing the company and future plans.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in scaling up operations?
At Chaayos, our USP (unique selling proposition) has always been serving our customers their “meri wali chai” (my own tea)—we customize every cup as per our customer’s liking—be it the kadak patti, no sugar or less sugar, or the flavours that go in the chai like adrak, tulsi, cinnamon, mint, ajwain, kali mirch, etc.
This customization ends up creating 12,000 possible permutations of chai—which becomes an operational nightmare when scaling up.
With so many add-ons and customization option of every consumer, maintaining consistency was one of our biggest challenges as we scaled up. We have been able to successfully tackle this through very strong training and certification programmes, and maintaining centralized quality through sourcing the best ingredients from all over India (for example, we source our cinnamon from Kerala and our tulsi from Uttarakhand, the two best sources for these ingredients). So the chai you get at Noida DLF Mall of India Chaayos is the same as what you would get in Bandra Chapel Road Chaayos, Mumbai. In spite of being an offline retail cafe chain, we always believed in solution technology. We have developed in-house technology for all the processes at Chaayos. We invest a lot into training our teams who go through a three-month certification programme, which is also powered by our technology solutions and it tracks the effectiveness of what has been taught. The next level of consistence and standardization will come through our chai machine, Chai Monk, which is already being deployed across all our cafes.
Today, Chaayos is not only about drinking tea. What are the product innovations that you have done over the years and why?
At Chaayos, our vision is to cater to each and every chai drinking occasion of our customers. To achieve this, we have worked extensively on product development and come up with many innovations, many of which have been suggestions given by our customers.
Having the right chai for summer months was an important objective—this helped us develop aam panna iced tea and kalakhatta iced tea as unique flavours in our summer menu. These are very Indian flavours but given a fusion twist when blended with iced tea, were blockbuster products during our summer months in 2016.
Our customers requested “more food options that go well with chai”, especially on the slightly more filling meals side— we came up with thepla tacos, a Mexican-Gujarati fusion dish, a loaded open paratha (a paratha loaded with filling and topped with cheese) and palak pasta crisps (palak pasta chaat with jalapeños and a tamarind mayo). These innovations have given us a distinct differentiated edge, and helped us maintain high repeat, as our customers always have something new to look forward to.
Our customers in business parks would often ask us for delivery to offices. So, we developed a disposable kettle packaging that keeps chai hot for an hour, which helped us deliver to offices and residential areas.
We wanted to offer our customers a portable way to have their chai when they travel—so we developed our RTM (ready to mix) chai, which just needs to be mixed with hot water to create your perfect masala chai. We have since partnered with SpiceJet and IRCTC to serve on board flights and trains.
What goes into making that perfect cuppa?
...we make sure to offer the exact tea, just the way you like it. We have multiple add-ons and flavours from across the country to ensure a great chai experience. So basically, a perfect cup of tea is all about using the best quality ingredients, a chai blend that is concocted at our base kitchen and served with lots of love.
How many varieties of tea do you serve? Which ones are favourites with customers?
We serve 25 varieties of hot chai that can be customized in 12,000 ways. Our most popular hot chais are kulhad chai, honey ginger lemon tea and gur wali chai. We also have a shahi chai which is like India’s answer to the hot chocolate.
In cold, we have over 15 varieties that include iced teas, thandi chais (our masala chai frappe), fruit shakes and lemonades (Modinagar shikanji being a favourite). Our most popular cold beverages are aam panna iced tea, kalakhatta iced tea, Modinagar shikanji and thandi chai in saunf flavour.
What are your future plans?
Currently, Chaayos operates 53 cafes across Delhi NCR, Mumbai and Chandigarh, and we plan to be 70 cafe-strong by the end of this financial year. We are planning to expand to other metros and important tier-II cities in the coming year. We will continue to innovate in many other ways to reach our customers and create lots of memorable chai moments for everyone.