A blend of observation and frustration led Glen Ellyn resident Asha Patel to launch an organic chai tea company that’s heating up.
Bhoomi Chai Co., founded and run by entrepreneurial-minded Patel, 46, launched in summer 2018. The married mother of three was looking for a way to get back into the work world after spending several years at home with her children. She previously had spent 10 years in market research and client services with Nielsen.
The Missouri native, who learned how to brew chai the authentic way on the stovetop visiting grandparents in India as a child, took notice of chai’s growing mainstream popularity in the U.S. However, she was frustrated by a pervasive lack of authenticity.
“The traditional way is to take the tea and spices and put them on a stovetop with water, simmer for a few minutes, add milk, strain and sweeten,” said Patel, noting that chai means tea in Hindi and so to say “chai tea” is redundant. In a number of places, “it was being sold in a concentrate. They did the boiling for you. There’s a convenience factor, but they add preservatives.
“Another way it’s being sold is as an instant mix. The ingredients they use are quite shocking: caking agents, fillers, preservatives and dehydrated tea. You lose the health benefits.”
Desiring to return to the work world and to bring education and authenticity to the brewing and drinking of chai, Patel launched Bhoomi Chai Co. and started hitting farmers markets throughout the Chicago area. Bhoomi means Earth in Hindi.
“That demographic [farmers market patrons] is more health conscious and into natural products and we were very well-received,” she said. “The first day, at the Wilmette French Market, we sold out.”
In addition to selling her blends at these markets, Patel provides education, training and tools so customers can brew better tea at home.
Success at farmers markets while juggling the needs of her three grade-school children was keeping Patel busy during her company’s first one and a half years.
“I was just blending and selling at farmers markets,” she said. “I couldn’t keep up with production. It was me and a few part-time helpers working out of a commercial kitchen to blend and package the teas.
“Customers would contact me on Facebook, Instagram or email to reorder, and I’d work indoor farmers markets during the winter and had no time to think about expanding.”
The hecticness had an upside. It gave Patel the chance to better evaluate customer feedback and experiment with recipes and packaging. For example, she has tweaked her most popular and original blend, 10 Spice Masala Chai (masala chai means tea with spices), five times based on customer feedback and her own tastes.
Patel gradually has expanded her product line.
“My customers see the benefits and are buying more. It’s healthy and fresh,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic derailed plans to expand by selling locally to cafes and grocery stores and possibly opening a brick-and-mortar location. In March, Patel launched an online store, BhoomiChaiCo.com, where she sells her custom-formulated blends consisting of organic tea and whole spices but no fillers or preservatives. The online store boasts 13 products – nine chai blends and four superfood blends.
• 10 Spice Masala Chai
• 8 Spice Pink Peppercorn Chai
• 9 Spice Chai Love, caffeine free
• 9 Spice Chocolate Chai
• 6 Spice Golden Turmeric Chai
• 6 Spice Caffeine Free Turmeric Chai
• 8 Spice Minty Masala Chai
• 8 Spice Mint Chocolate Chai
• 9 Spice Zesty Citrus Chai
Superfood blends (a nutrient-dense food with health benefits that is added to smoothies, teas, cereals and more):
• 5 Spice Golden Turmeric Latte
• Super Spiced Hot Cocoa
• 6 Spice Turmeric Hot Cocoa
• Detox & Digestion Tea
“I’m getting daily orders,” she said, adding she plans to start a newsletter and paid advertising on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Google to attract new customers.
After the rebranding of her packaging is complete in the next month, Patel plans to sell locally to cafes and grocery stores with a goal of expanding nationally.
“To get there, I need to establish relationships with co-packers and distributors,” she said. “I’m also looking at Whole Foods or Mariano’s. “It’s exciting, but there’s a lot to do. I feel confident.”
If she one day opens a brick-and-mortar location, selling chai alone would not sustain the operation and she’d have to add a ready-to-eat menu, Patel said.
Bhoomi Chai is now big enough that Patel buys her organic teas directly from a fourth-generation family farm in India, bypassing an importer. She continues to buy spices from an importer but plans to switch to buying directly from a spice’s country of origin in the near future.
Going to the source has its advantages, Patel said.
“You know exactly where it’s coming from and you want to work with suppliers who are doing good in terms of sustainability,” she said. “It’s also fresher. You want to get the most recent harvest.”
Does Patel have any secrets?
“It’s really producing a great product that customers truly enjoy and being a service-oriented company, which means excellent customer service and providing lots of knowledge on health and wellness, which is what my customers are interested in,” she said. “I think if I’m doing those two things well, that will help me grow.”