Thursday, March 7, 2019

Interview with Vikram Mathur Of Yatra Tea Company

Photo courtesy of Vikram Mathur

I'm pleased to present my interview with Vikram Mathur, owner of Yatra Tea Company. I first had the opportunity to try Yatra tea at the 2018 World Tea Expo, where I assisted with a tea pairing workshop. I enjoyed the teas I tried, and I was curious to learn more about the company. I recently connected with Vikram, and he graciously offered to answer a few questions. Learn about his tea journey, how he is helping the Indian tea growing community, and what inspires him in the interview below.

Photo courtesy of Vikram Mathur

Yatra is Sanskrit for “journey”. Can you share a little bit of your personal tea journey with us? 
Growing up in Calcutta, India, my journey with tea naturally started with traditional chai. For the longest time, that’s all I knew. But growing up in Calcutta gave me one distinct advantage; teas from the major producing regions like Darjeeling, Assam, etc. invariably pass through Calcutta. Given its proximity to these regions, and the fact that it is one of a handful of cities worldwide holding tea auctions, I soon found that I had close friends deeply entrenched in the tea trade. This afforded me the luxury of sampling a large variety of teas as well as having trusted lifelong friends to guide me along the way. Thus, began my introduction to premium grade, single origin teas. 

What inspired you to start a tea company? 
I personally found that Indian teas were not well represented in the US. Most people’s first impressions of Indian tea were sullied by cheaper, grocery store tea. Moreover, I was surprised at the number of people who associated Indian tea solely with strong black tea best suited for milk and sugar. So, I decided to start my own company and leverage the supply chain I had to bring in high quality tea of different varieties from different tea growing regions.

Why do you focus on Indian teas? 
Being of Indian origin, and having a strong support system insofar as sourcing is concerned, my focus naturally fell on Indian teas. To a lesser extent, I also focus on Nepali teas. My goal is to introduce the American audience to a variety of high-quality teas coming out of the Indian subcontinent.

Can you tell us a little bit about your collaboration with Induz and Project Kopou, to help empower tea growers and their children?
I find the labor issues associated with the tea industry to be very disturbing. I was adamant that any tea-based initiative of mine needs to give back. But I was also keen to partner with an organization that has a direct impact, with operations on the ground. I looked long and hard and found Induz, and specifically, Project Kopou.

I grew up in a family that valued education. I was fortunate to have the option of studying what I wanted. Children of tea estate workers are not that lucky. True, there are many tea estates that are genuinely concerned about the well being of their workers and their children, but I felt it necessary to contribute in my own small way.

Induz, through Project Kopou, does a wonderful job of engaging children of tea estate workers in programs aimed at formal and vocational education. They introduce these children to various forms of art. One hopes that these efforts will present children with more opportunities as they grow. That’s all one really needs sometimes – an opportunity.

How do you select the teas that you sell? 
As a small company with limited resources, selecting tea can be a daunting task, especially since I am based overseas yet choose to source direct. A simpler solution is to source from a wholesaler, but that goes against everything Yatra believes in.

The key for me is to provide range, both in the types of tea I source as well as the regions from which I source. Every year I go to India to discuss sourcing with my trusted supply chain. We identify estates, taste a variety of teas, and determine the right mix of quality and value. This last step is key – not only do I want to direct-source quality teas, but also secure them at reasonable prices so I can pass on the value to consumers. I was amazed to see how much more value Yatra is able to offer for identical teas sold by other vendors. It means we are doing something right!

In 2018 I assisted with a World Tea Expo tea pairing workshop with Virginia Lovelace that featured some of your teas. Are you working on future tea pairing collaborations? 
Virginia opened my eyes to the world of tea-food pairings. Frequently, I would “pair” my tea with a food item only to find the flavor of the tea to be masked or muted entirely. At a Nepali tea event at L’Espalier in Boston, I had the good fortune of meeting Virginia. We are in the process of designing an instructional tea-food pairing workshop in the near future.

I love collaborating! Last year I collaborated with a premium spice shop in Cambridge to create two custom blends using two of my single origin teas as a base. I look forward to more such partnerships!

Do you have any personal tea rituals? 
Like many, I enjoy the mindfulness aspect of preparing and drinking tea. I am successfully able to tune out everything else and focus on the right amount of dry leaf, water temperature, steeping time, etc. And then focus my attention on how each sip makes me feel, how the flavors and nuances gently reveal themselves with each successive sip. It is an immersive experience.

Of late, a simple activity I enjoy is sitting beside my 4 year old golden retriever with a cup of tea in hand, letting go of all other distractions, and just enjoying my tea while petting her. A truly relaxing few minutes combining animal therapy and good tea!

Are you planning any future projects for Yatra Tea Company? 
I am contemplating a monthly subscription box focused on Indian and Nepali teas. One that showcases the variety of teas produced in the region. A lot of wrinkles to iron out, but I have begun the preliminary plans. I think it will be a great tool for discovering the wealth of high-quality teas produced in the Indian subcontinent.

Thank you so much Vikram for taking the time out for this interview. If you'd like to learn more about Yatra Tea Company, be sure to visit the website, and stay tuned as I'll be doing a Yatra Tea giveaway on Instagram!


  1. I really enjoyed this interview. I would love to learn more about teas from the Indian subcontinent and exploring this company seems like a good way to start.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it Lynn! There are so many Indian teas to discover and enjoy.